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The corridors of power...

No prizes for guessing which minister has been silent as National Air Traffic Services has been bailed out by the same government which privatised it only seven months ago. No, not Stephen Byers, looking more and more like a permanent member of what an old editor of mine called the fingertip club - but chief secretary at the Treasury, Andrew Smith.

Smith’s silence is almost matched by the disappearance of our deputy prime minister. John Prescott, who as environment secretary pressed strongly for the partial privatisation of the London tube and signed off on the privatisation of NATS. And Byers, his successor, is left to carry the can.

The brains behind an increasing number of failed Labour policies belong to the Gordon Brown. But Brown’s key political skill is getting others to front them. It’s remarkable how he has extricated himself from the furore over the tube, even though he bulldogged the policy through. For all the the airy speeches Blair makes the real pressure to sell off public assets comes from Brown and his henchpeople Ed Balls and Ed Miliband. Proving that people

come into government with fixed ideas generated in opposition and few ever find the time or courage to change them. Labour is living on intellectual capital accumulated in the mid 1990s while the world is seven years older and wiser.

I said fingertip club for Byers and that is conventional wisdom. But as he was so protective of Jo Moores, Blair is going to pay out more rope before the noose finally tightens round his neck. Tony Blair knows that even to hint at getting rid of him would be to capitulate to the baying mob of opposition MPs and journalists. It’s been remarkable, instead, how the number ten briefers, ever ready to do a person down, have been silent on the Byers’ front. For ever? No. Barring a miracle number ten will think of dropping him before the next election.

  • David Walker writes for The Guardian

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