OPINION: Blair owes his popularity to his canny chancellor

It is five years this week since New Labour was elected and, as if to celebrate, the Prime Minister's spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, gave his first radio interview since 1997 to Radio 5 Live.

While this was a coup for the station for which I work, it seemed slightly odd hearing Campbell telling us why we should vote Labour in this week's local elections, rather than a cabinet minister.

Despite this, I actually welcome his intervention because if we encourage spin doctors to be more visible, as they have in the US, they won't be able to be portrayed as the devil all the time.

The media's increasing attacks on 'spinners', as if they are to blame for everything that goes wrong, were interesting at first but have now become a bit tiresome. The only way spin doctors will be accepted is if their work is more open.

When Labour first took power in 1997, both Campbell and I agreed that the secretive daily lobby briefings should be opened up and indeed televised. This was bitterly opposed by the civil servants and Campbell didn't think it was worth a row, so regrettably it never happened.

In the past five years, 'spin' has been one of the areas in which New Labour has come unstuck most - and I should know. Despite the spin doctors, including me, failing to come to terms with promoting Labour in government, Blair will look back and be satisfied with his work so far.

When I asked my Sunday Service colleague Andrew Pierce what he would score Blair out of ten, I expected such a fierce critic to be harsh. To my surprise, he awarded him eight, one more than my seven. I suppose anyone who can win two consecutive landslide victories deserves a high score.

It is still my view, however, that if it wasn't for the fact that Gordon Brown has run the economy successfully then Blair would be on his way out by now. It's easy to forget just how badly former Labour chancellors fared and how it was the economy that destroyed previous Labour administrations.

It was Brown's decision to make the Bank of England independent - a decision that Blair had nothing to do with - that set the tone for the New Labour government.

It remains the single most important decision the Government has taken and is the one most commentators agree was the boldest.

How Blair must wish that he was behind the decision because so far the Prime Minister can't claim any memorable policy in government (that's excluding the idea to make yobs go to cash machines to pay instant fines or last week's idea to end child benefit for naughty kids). The one good idea he did have was the ending of Clause 4 but that was in opposition and even then he never had the guts to actually tell the Labour conference what he meant. Like his recent statement to the House of Commons about cutting street crime by September, it was left to his spin doctors to tell us what he really said.

Blair is still remarkably popular with the voters, but this is probably partly because the opposition is so feeble. Already the Tories are talking about dumping Iain Duncan Smith and replacing him with David Davis, but there's a problem with this idea. Many people think Davis is the man who helps run the Football Association, not the Conservatives' party chairman.

Blair can point to successes abroad, where he even more popular than he is here. Maybe he is saving himself for the decision he has to make on the euro. He wants to go down in history as the man who took us in but he has a big problem. Without his Chancellor agreeing with him, it simply won't happen.

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