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Wednesday, August 30, 2006 

Blair or bust.

It's almost possible to feel slightly sorry for Tony Blair. Going from the most loved, respected and impressive politician of his generation to being the most loathed, detested and untrusted within 10 years must be difficult to adjust to. Long gone are the now hilarious in retrospect "Cool Britannia" parties at 10 Downing Street, where hand-picked celebs all worshipped at the feet of the king of spin, replaced instead with a bunker mentality, advised only by his remaining friends and allies.

These friends and allies, exemplified by the likes of Charles Falconer, chief crony and unelected to boot,, seem to be the only ones left in the country that can't see how badly Blair needs to go immediately, not in a few months, not in a year, but right now. It is only they that are still convinced by his messianic complex, that only he can solve the problems of the world at large. That Blair has had next to no influence on Bush administration despite riding their coat-tails and in effect turning our foreign policy over to the hawks in the Pentagon doesn't stop them from continuing to claim that he must be the one who goes to the Middle East to bang heads together. The possibilities of a peace settlement any time soon between Israel and Palestine are now laughable, thanks in part to Blair and Bush's insistence that Israel be given time to destroy Hizbullah, while hundreds of innocents died. As it has turned out, the Israeli public appears to have decided that they didn't hit Lebanon hard enough. This is coupled with the abduction of countless Hamas and Palestinian authority members by Israel, which only underlines the contempt the Israelis feel for democracy that leads in their eyes to terrorist groups gaining more power.

Falconer's other wheeze is that only Tony can save this country from evil terrorists dedicated to destroying our loving and peaceful way of life. That Blair was on holiday and didn't feel the need to return earlier this month at the height of the hysteria over the hyped out of all proportion terror plot should be enough to destroy this mendacious argument, but there's something else worth acknowledging also. Only 1% believe the country is safer after Blair's wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, surely the biggest indictment of the man and his supposed power in dealing with the terrorist threat. Even if you don't think that Blair's decision to needlessly join the illegal war on Iraq directly led to the 7/7 attacks, it's clear that many believe that he has done nothing to help the situation. Rather, he's ever more convinced of his righteousness in his foreign policy. His "arcs of extremism" speech was frightening in how close in proximity it was to Bush's rants about "Islamic fascists". His desire to lump all nominally "extremist" Islamic organisations together as one homogeneous entity, different aims and all, as well as the refusal to directly contact either Syria or Iran during the Israel-Lebanon-Hizbullah war ought to show that his foreign policy is not just wrong and counter-productive, it's downright dangerous.

Even Tessa Jowell, who has in the past suggested she'd throw herself under a bus to protect her saviour Tony, recognises there are doubts about Blair's continued leadership, but these are laughably only in the "Westminster village". More notable is the nugget that nearly all the closest Blair allies have either resigned in the past or been caught in scandals. Stephen Byers, or as more popularly known, Byers Byers Pants on Fires, sounds off first to Sunday Telegraph that inheritance tax should be scrapped so that Middle England has a reason to love Tony, then uses the Murdoch press to suggest that Gordon Brown has to use the 2007 spending review to cement the New Labour legacy. Alan Milburn, who resigned to spend more time with his family and at the same time join the board of a company with a direct interest in the NHS, the department he previously ran, has refused to deny that he would run for the leadership once Blair does finally go. No one cares any longer what David Blunkett thinks, but he doubtless would like Blair or one of his allies to become leader, only because that'd be the only chance he has of returning to the government for a third time.

The longer Blair stays, the more enemies he creates. Charles Clarke continues to skulk in the background, embittered by his removal as Home Secretary. Michael Meacher, the former environment minister has since emerged as one of the darlings of the parliamentary left. Clare Short, who left it far too late to resign over Iraq, has similar qualities. None of these could on their own force Blair to consider his future, but together and with other Labour MPs they could almost certainly force something approaching a coup. That they haven't, and that the party seems disinclined to do anything, despite reports in the Grauniad this morning that something finally seems to be happening, means that they will just as culpable if it ends up with David Cameron winning the next election.

The biggest wimp of all though has been Gordon Brown. For a man who has waited so long, who has plotted for so long, who has been betrayed time and again, he seems remarkably content to let Blair completely wreck the Labour party. As Polly Toynbee has pointed out, the satisfaction rating with Blair is half that of Thatcher's when she was forced to leave Downing Stret in tears. Getting rid of Blair would be incredibly popular in the country, but the worry for Brown must be that the Blairite ultras and the Tories would combine together to say that the left was regaining the upper hand in the party. Utter bollocks, obviously, but you can bet your money that the Daily Mail and Sun would go along with it.

Blair himself should have resigned over the death of David Kelly. He should have resigned over the absence of WMD in Iraq. He should resign over the disaster that Iraq has become. He should resign over the loans for peerages scandal. If he won't go now, he has to be forced to.

Labour then is faced with a choice. It can let Blair to continue in his delusion that only he can solve Britain and the world's problems single handedly, or they can get rid of him. They have it in their power to do so. The longer this continues, the more the hatred for Blair, and as a result, Labour, grows. This would not be the equivalent of the Tories getting rid of Thatcher; the party has far longer to re-establish itself with the electorate, with a leader and new policies that actually do something other than disillusion the party's core support. Unless it happens now, we may face another 18 years of Tory hell, and you can rest assured that however bad New Labour has been, the other lot will be worse.

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