Welcome to Pant Watch. Pant Watch exists to chronicle the dying days of the Blair administration. Technically, we are now at P-8, P-1 being the day that Steve Bell published this cartoon showing Blair wearing John Major’s pants of power. To be sure, Bell has portrayed Blair as a pant-wearer before, most memorably here, but it would appear that Blair has now acquired something unmistakeably Major-like in his impotence in administration now, as if we have reached, if not the end of the Blair administration, then at least the beginning of the end.
(for more on this by Steve himself, see here)
It would appear however that both the Tory contenders look at Blair’s pants with envious eyes. I mention the Tories here, not simply to make a gratuitous link to that ridiculous story, but because I think a lot of the commentariat has missed a point here.
The story goes that Blair has lost all authority and that his attempts to push through his reforms on health, education and welfare will all be for nothing, that he won’t be able to squeeze a single thing through. Those commentators appear to be missing one very important ingredient; pretty much everything Blair wants to do to health, education and welfare is broadly along the same lines that the Tories want to do as well. Indeed, Cameron has repeatedly emphasised that on a number of issues in the past, the Tories were wrong to oppose Blair.
Cameron is onto a real thing here and even if he doesn’t win the leadership ballot, it may well be that elements of his nascent strategy emerged under Davis anyway. Tactically, the best thing the Tories can do right now is work with Blair on these reforms, partly because it means they get broadly what they want despite not having the prerequisite bums on seats, and partly because it is likely to provoke an unholy civil war within the Labour Party.
How long will it be before Blair wins a vote on a ‘legacy’ issue, with the Tories bolstering him in the face of a major Labour rebellion? It didn’t happen in the case of the terrorism vote, and civil liberties in general, mainly because it wouldn’t wash with the idea of modern conservativism, whichever flavour you choose. Public services are a different matter.
What we could be looking at here is the beginning of an informal Grand Coalition, which has the potential to develop into a more formal arrangement after the next General Election. It would inevitably be more problematic for Labour than the Tories, but it would also be in Labour’s interests, or at least the Blairite-reformist wing that forms the majority of MPs. It is surely only a matter of time before they realise that a marriage with a rebranded, modern Conservative Party is preferable to one with Old Labour. Meanwhile, any Tory who can count – and I understand there are a few – is all too aware that however well they do over the next few years, they can’t form a majority in the Commons (pdf). Their future will either be spent in the wilderness or in coalition, and it is unlikely that the ‘natural party of government’ will choose the wilderness.
Many Labour supporters will snort in derision at this, but this is the precisely the corner that Tony Blair has got them in. This is the danger of triangulation, especially when the people at the top end up believing it. Abandon ‘modernisation’ and you open up ground for the Tories to capture. Stick with it and you will have to rely on the Tories to get everything through.
So even if the current wearer of the pants shuffles off, it may be that his successor finds them freshly pressed on his bed when he enters Number 10 for the first time.
Meanwhile, whoever the Tories choose for leader may find he has the real power in the country. Even David Davis.
Think about that one.