Comment at end
18th March 2010
Following on from the previous post, where Michael Gove still shows he has the political “hots” for Tony Blair, I re-read his 2003 confession of “lurve” or something for the former PM. He’s not even itching now, even after seven years. That flame still burns brightly. So, I really feel that the original article deserves an airing here. I can imagine the ribbing he got from colleagues after that. I’m hoping that Mr Gove might even become the second MP to sign the above petition. Tom Harris, a Labour Blairite was the first. Come on, Mr Gove… you know you should. I’m really piling it on here just for you. Haven’t you noticed? Using plenty of blue. Just to make you feel at home.
Michael Gove: “I can’t fight my feelings any more: I love Tony”
Blair’s outbreak of courage deserves the respect of natural conservatives
You could call it the Elizabeth Bennett moment. It’s what Isolde felt when she fell into Tristan’s arms. It’s the point you reach when you give up fighting your feelings, abandon the antipathy bred into your bones, and admit that you were wrong about the man. By God, it’s still hard to write this, but I’m afraid I’ve got to be honest. Tony Blair is proving an outstanding Prime Minister at the moment.
This news is, of course, the last thing the Prime Minister needs. Mr Blair faces a difficult enough task in the Commons today trying to rally the Labour Party behind his Iraq policy without Tory Boys in the pay of global press magnates slavering all over him.
And many, but far from all, of my fellow rightwingers will wonder what on earth I’m doing licking Mr Blair’s boots when Labour are, at last, dipping in the polls. Shouldn’t any Conservative-inclined commentator be turning up the heat on the Prime Minister now, at last, when he’s vulnerable? Don’t the Tories have enough internal problems without those writers who’re supposed to be sympathetic to their cause bigging up Blair?
They’re all good points if you’re a tribalist. But I’m a journalist. In so far as I’m sympathetic to Tory politicians, and their arguments, it’s because as a right-wing polemicist I find them persuasive. And as a right-wing polemicist, all I can say looking at Mr Blair now is, what’s not to like?
Central to any current assessment of Mr Blair has to be the manner in which he is handling the Iraq crisis. But before considering just how impressive his stance is, and how petty his detractors, it’s worth noting that Mr Blair’s entitlement to conservative respect doesn’t rest on his foreign policy alone.
The Prime Minister has been right, and brave, to introduce market pressures into higher education by pushing through university top-up fees in the teeth of opposition from his egalitarian Chancellor. He’s been correct in conceding, to the annoyance of his wife I’m sure, that the European Convention on Human Rights gets in the way of a sane asylum policy. In dealing with the firefighters, and their absurdly selfish strike, he’s been satisfactorily resolute.
There are certainly idiocies aplenty across the range of this Government’s domestic policy, indeed that’s hardly surprising given ministers like Tessa Jowell and John Prescott in the Cabinet. The problem with putting muppets into office is that there’s no one left to pull the strings when your hands are full.
While we’re on the subject of pulling strings, the Government will also struggle to improve public services while it continues to rely on centralised funding, management and provision. But even here, Mr Blair and some of his smarter ministers, such as Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, seem to be acknowledging the limitations of their tax, spend, command and control strategy.
It is not, however, on the domestic agenda that Mr Blair is facing his biggest challenge at the moment. It is over Iraq that he is in greatest difficulty politically. All because, as a Labour Prime Minister, he’s behaving like a true Thatcherite.
Indeed, he’s braver in some respects than Maggie was. The Falklands war took courage. But Thatcher had most of the country, and her party, behind her. In dealing with the Iraq crisis, Mr Blair has neither.
The Thatcherite approach to foreign policy isn’t to every Tory taste. The belief that dictators should be confronted, not coddled, America is there to be supported, not patronised, and the national interest includes maintaining our honour not just calculating narrow advantage, is deprecated by some Conservatives. They include a lot of clever people, from Matthew Parris to Chris Patten.
But if ever I’m tempted to think these Tories may perhaps have a point, I just look at who’s enraged by the Thatcherite stance that Mr Blair has adopted towards Iraq. Any policy that unites George Galloway, Vanessa Redgrave, Jacques Chirac, the Bishop of Oxford, George Michael and Piers Morgan in condemnation has to have something going for it. And Mr Blair’s policy has more than just the right critics. It has the merit of genuine moral force.
As the Prime Minister has pointed out, all those opposed to him have no solution to the problem of proliferating weapons of mass destruction, they offer no hope to the people of Iraq, they have no understanding of how much every tyrant and terrorist across the globe would rejoice if the West were to back down in the face of President Saddam Hussein’s brinksmanship.
My admiration for the Prime Minister’s bravery in making this case is, I have to add, only increased when I listen to the sneering condescension with which broadcasters treat Government policy on Iraq. Jeremy Paxman is just one of several who seem determined never to give the elected head of our Government the benefit of any doubt, cheerily mocking Mr Blair’s Christian beliefs and brazenly maintaining that the last inspections regime failed because of Western, not Iraqi, bad faith.
It may seem a trifle rich of me, as someone who’s enjoyed giving Mr Blair a good kicking, to object when the boot is being driven home on another foot. But there’s a difference between taking on a leader with a 93 per cent approval rating when he’s steering to the sound of applause, and piling in against a Prime Minister who’s grown into a conviction politician, risking public approval, party support and a cosy relationship with Europe in order to confront tyranny.
Critics in his party say he won’t be forgiven if his policy fails. But in truth he won’t be forgiven by his critics if it succeeds, because he’ll have proved them wrong. That’s the cost of conviction. And it would be churlish not to applaud it.
That’s pretty convincing stuff, Mr Gove. And pretty much how I feel, even if I was a tad slower catching on to this “Blair man” (as my other half, in typical Tory frustration) likes to describe him. When the better half also told me the other day that I should forget Blair, ‘cos he’s dead’, I thought – OMG! How did I miss that on Google Alerts?
But I’m definitely warming to you, Michael. Hope you don’t mind if I call you Michael.
My bugbear is the press, not arty farty types, hanging-and-flogging pacifists or churchmen who can’t even run their own diocese. In this country the press, in general, is beneath contempt in their treatment of a great prime minister and a good man.
Like John Rentoul, you are one of the few exceptions, and doubly so since you are a Conservative front-bencher.
My congratulations are due to you, and humble thanks for your humanity.
I too am not a Labour party member. Or any party’s member. (Tessa Jowell, to be fair, is a true Blairite. She’s the one who said she’d jump under a bus for our Tony, so she can’t be all bad.)
On second thoughts, if she meant it “ironically”, perhaps you’re right.
One seat fewer to shoe a Blairite into!