Opinion: Blair no longer cares for public opinion

I know this may come as a shock, but I'm reliably informed that Tony Blair has given up listening to focus groups. Could this have been a factor in the Prime Minister's decision to ignore public opinion earlier this week?

He failed to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East even after Israeli bombs killed dozens of children.

Blair's spin doctors don't even attempt to justify his blind allegiance to George W. Bush on this matter. Instead we are told he has a ‘complete inner self-confidence'. It also helps, of course, that Blair doesn't have to fight another election.

Could he be going the same way as Margaret Thatcher after too long in power, taking his finger off the pulse and only hearing what he wants to hear? How times have changed.

Is this the same Tony Blair I remember trying to convince Gordon Brown that the Queen should have her new Royal Yacht, until The Sun published a poll showing 80 per cent of readers were against it? Now he has a new personal PR strategy. Straight from his meeting with Bush, he went off to make a speech to Rupert Murdoch's News International.

The Labour Party may hate it, but you have to admit it's a good strategy for promoting himself to the after-dinner speaker circuit in the US for when he does finally leave office.

It is also significant that even the loyal members of his Cabinet are breaking ranks and criticising the US and Israel. Margaret Beckett became the first foreign secretary under Blair to openly criticise American policy.  She couldn't wait to get into her caravan and leave Blair to it.

As for the Chancellor, with the birth of his new son he has the perfect excuse to say nothing just now. At times like this, there is usually a clarion call from Blair loyalists for the Chancellor to make a public statement supporting their leader, but even they are quiet on this one.

Brown knows that the Middle-East crisis will have little impact on Blair's leaving date. But rather than spending his time changing nappies, he is currently working on the final details of his own post-Blair policy agenda.

He will have noticed that despite all Blair's problems, Labour is still only marginally behind the Tories in the latest polls.

The focus groups will be showing that while the public don't like to see the PM cuddling up to Bush, they're not yet enamoured with what the Opposition has to offer either.  And, unlike his boss, Brown will be keeping a very keen eye on what they are saying. 

charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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