Opinion: Leader - Blair and Labour live to fight another day

Ten years after taking control of the Labour Party, Tony Blair this week demonstrated the sure touch for political comms that has already made him the party's most successful leader and looks set to win him a third term in office. Within hours of the potentially disastrous Butler Report, the party had unveiled a string of the sort of eye-catching and headline-grabbing initiatives that pollster Philip Gould's memos tend to call for (rail shake-up, legalised brothels), knocking Butler to the inside pages by day two.

In the middle of this, he won one of two eminently losable by-elections (Birmingham Hodge Hill), by diverting resources from the other (Leicester South), which would have been lost anyway. By holding even one of this pair, he triggered surprise among the media and fresh momentum for this week's announcements.

A longer-term analysis of Blair's contribution to the art of political PR suggests something of a paradox. Some of the time, it conforms to the eager-to-please 'triangulation' of Bill Clinton's era, shunning extreme choices in favour of anodyne middle ways. The rest of the time, it exhibits a 'let's poke the snake' attitude, gambling endlessly on the view that being seen as combative and unbending is as plausible a leadership stance as any other.

Above all, his ability to pick the future stars of the comms business as advisers has been unerring. Many of them - notably Alastair Campbell but also a handful of others - have now left his service, but in their place are yet more in that mould. People who understand how to ensure the longevity of reputations, not just for good faith or sound judgement but for qualities that define leadership and raise the premier above his rivals: vision, passion, commitment, guile.

This could all be tosh, of course. Blair might just be a dishonest chancer benefitting from a performing economy and a self-destructive opposition and showing total disregard for all but the tiny clique who run the country through a series of unminuted meetings.

Ten years on, the truth is a bit of both.

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