Compare and contrast

Posted by Helen Tuesday, May 02, 2006

My co-blogger, Iain Dale, has produced a preliminary list of Blair government scandals and is inviting people to write about any one they like. I can’t say I agree with all the ones he lists – some of them are normal behaviour on the part of any government and some, like the money for peerages, is not, in my opinion a scandal.

Most of them, however, are corkers. Cherie Blair figures in quite a few, though her husband, believed to be the Prime Minister, seems to have distanced himself from her vagaries.

Inevitably, the journalistic cry has gone up: this is as bad as the Major government. With respect to the media, one has to say that this is considerably worse than the Major government. It is true that post ERM (those of us who believe that economic growth is more important than political face-saving prefer to call the day White Wednesday) that hapless government slid into a morass of seeming incompetence and sleaze. Once that image becomes fixed in the public mind, nothing can dislodge it.

The point about the Blair government sleaze is that it is right at the heart of it. The people getting caught out are not junior ministers or backbenchers (often extremely obscure) but senior members of the Cabinet, holders of the great offices of state.

So why is the government not being brought down the way the Major government was, a comment on this blog asked. Well, in the first place, the Major government was not brought down but lost an election after the Prime Minister had gone to the wire with his timing. This is never a good idea: think Sir Alec Douglas Home (who, actually, did much better than expected), James Callaghan and, then, John Major.

The latest spate of scandals will not be judged by the electorate for a couple of years.

There are other differences. The ERM debacle (staying in while the country was plunging into a recession rather than the getting out of it then being bounced out) certainly created the impression of the Tories no longer being able to manage the economy.

By contrast, Gordon Brown may well go down in history as one of the most disastrous Chancellors this country has had for a long time, but his incompetence is being revealed in small doses.

Then there was the appalling spectacle of Maastricht – the long drawn-out agony of that Bill, which was completely unnecessary. After the Danish “no” Major could have said that this was a good opportunity to sit back and take stock. Instead, he went into an unneeded Paving Motion, which he won by three votes and the whole dragged-out spectacle. There has been nothing like it with the Blair government.

Last but not least, there is the question of opposition. By the mid-nineties, somebody has pointed out, the Labour Party seemed ready to take power. As this is a historical not a political discussion, I shall not go beyond that comment.


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