Monday, December 11, 2006

The final Blair years: like a re-run of Clinton’s second term?

It’s traditional to knock politicians when they’re down.

Back in the late ninety’s, President Clinton made his third [in an accent similar to the introduction of each week's The President’s Weekly Address podcast] “historic” visit to Northern Ireland.

Despite having policies and what seemed like a genuine desire to improve the US economy, his second term of office was overshadowed - perhaps sunk - by the Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent impeachment hearings.

Foreign policy and in particular foreign trips were a welcome break from the tedium and embarrassment of life in Washington DC.

The police had sealed all the manhole covers around Belfast's Hilton Hotel and placed crowd control barriers in front of it.

As Clinton walked out of the hotel on that cold morning, was he greeted by the thousands of people who had stood in front of Belfast City Hall on his first visit and watched Clinton turn on the Christmas tree lights?

(Incidentally, either the Ninja Turtles or the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers had been booked - can't remember which - but Bill snuck in and switched on the illuminations a week early.)

No. About twenty people greeted him. A couple of cleaners from a nearby building, and some folk who were wandering into work a bit late. Later on, some local office workers chatted to Chealsea in the hotel gym during their lunchtime workout. All very low key.

The reason for this reminiscence? Well, Tony Blair’s presidency seems to be heading downhill fast. His power at home is draining into the already-full storm drains around Westminster.

  • Iraq has not been the success he gambled on. Bush has become an awkward ally, helping to undermine Blair’s genuineness.
  • Blair’s Northern Ireland hopes are far from secure.
  • So too are his efforts in the Middle East.
  • And the Cash for Peerages investigation is sure to mean that the political trivia in history books includes the reference to him being "the first serving UK Prime Minister to be questioned by the police".

Politicians, who are at times noble, still fall as quickly as the rest of us.

Clinton, Blair, probably Bush too. Brown better watch out.

1 comment:

John Self said...

"All political careers end in failure" - Enoch Powell (attrib.)

Another political old hand, whose name eludes me, also advised Blair in the early days, "After about seven years they begin to hate you."

It's clear that he's only hanging on because he's determined to make it 10 years in number 10. I suspect he would really have liked to make it to the end of 2008, whereupon he could pass Maggie's record of 11.5 years, but he realised sometime this year that that isn't going to happen.

Having said that, a lot of the public perception of a PM is in the media's hands. Blair suffers from a largely hostile popular press - check out the Daily Mail website for an eye-opener in what unbalanced reporting is like, and for the readers' comments which really do blame Blair for absolutely everything, just making themselves look stupid in the process - and even in better sources, bad news always plays rather better than good news. Politicians on the one hand are castigated when anything goes wrong (as NHS architect Nye Bevan said, "When a bedpan is dropped, the noise reverberates around Whitehall"), and on the other hand are accused of spin when anything goes right.

But if he can get power-sharing up and running here before he goes next May, then "Blair - he solved (pretty much) the Irish Question" wouldn't be a bad legacy.