Napoleon, it is said, was more interested in lucky than competent
generals. If so, he would have warmed to Tony Blair. Our Prime Minister
had the good PR fortune last week to discover the value of
The release of the two British nurses convicted of murdering a colleague
in Saudi Arabia, which had hypocritical dogs savaging unspeakable dogs
who bought up their story, and the Northern Ireland referendum combined
to let Labour off the hook.
All this helped to temper criticism of the failure of the G8 summit to
deal adequately with Third World debt; the Government-assisted return of
the unions to menace the economy through the proposed 16-point extension
of workers’ rights; and rising hospital waiting lists, school class
sizes and inflation.
In these conspiracy ridden days, the only surprising thing is that
nobody has suggested that Alastair Campbell personally arranged for
Lucille McLauchlan and Deborah Parry to be sprung last week from their
Damman gaol. Instead, we now have another diversion: reshuffleitis. And,
such is today’s preoccupation with presentation at the expense of
substance, that the main interest focuses on the promotion of Mr Blair’s
Svengali, Peter Mandelson.
Labour’s Minister without Portfolio wants a proper job - a portfolio, to
be precise. I don’t blame him. However important presentation is, he
cannot be taken seriously as a politician, as distinct from an eminence
grise, until he has run a government department and demonstrated his
command of the Commons. He has to put spin doctoring behind him and
If he is an opportunist, as so many regard him, he will also want to get
out of the presentational game now that the Government’s performance is
falling short of its promises as well as put as much distance between
himself and the Millennium Dome before the year 2000 since, under his
tutelage, it has become a folly of fun.
But there are problems. As a second rank minister, he has not yet run
anything. And he has lots of highly-placed enemies, such as John
Prescott and Gordon Brown who don’t want him in their departments and
would grind him down if he went to the DTI or DSS. So where is Mr Blair
going to put him? The Cabinet Office, in place of David Clark, or Leader
of the Commons (for Ann Taylor) could still leave him with spin and Dome
and Heritage, in place of Chris Smith, still with the Dome
International Development (for Clare Short), wouldn’t be big enough and
would deliver him into the hands of Robin Cook, which would be sadistic
of Mr Blair.
So is Mr Mandelson’s fate to handle BSE at Ag. and Fish, waiting lists
at Health or the not-quite-so-warring tribes of Ulster? How do you
untypecast a spin doctor to give him a chance of a political future?
Over to you Mr Blair. Government is just one hard choice after another.