View from the House

Tony Blair is not given to sharing his innermost thoughts with his colleagues.

The issue is not whether Labour wins but how many seats it gets. Apparatchiks at Labour’s Millbank HQ divide. The ultra cautious talk in terms of a 70 seat margin. Others point to intelligence reports on the state of the Tory party in certain local areas – a shambles, organisationally speaking – and project a Labour majority of over 100.

‘They’ve been very clever of late’, an insider opined, pointing to Labour’s recent attentiveness to the heartlands and relatively generous public sector pay settlements intended to shore up the party’s base. William Hague’s focus on race before Christmas was greeted as a bonus, for it allowed Labour to present itself to supporters as a party with a heart, with something to fight for.

But the more the election is seen as won, the more freedom some Labourites will claim in raising ticklish questions. One is about the manifesto.

So far, sources say, it looks like being a bit of a soggy pudding with no particular theme. Some ministers want Labour to unclothe itself as a redistributionist party boasting openly of its commitment to social justice.

Number 10 ‘which has tight control of the manifesto writing process’ is unlikely to agree.

The other question is people. The more certain victory looks the more the political future of Labour’s leading personalities gets discussed.

Already Robin Cook has been putting the word out that, for all his problems as foreign secretary, he offers Blair an indispensable counter-weight to Gordon Brown.

A lot more of that kind of talk is going to be heard before the year is older. John Prescott, they say, will get an ornamental job while his administrative empire is carved up in order to give transport the political lead it desperately needs. And so on. Blair will strive to avoid any signs of complacency about the election but he will not succeed. His colleagues already have their eyes on the victory ball.

  • David Walker writes for the Guardian.

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