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Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Blair-Brown / Blair-Bush rumour-mill

If you keep an eye on UK politics you will know that there has just been a mini-reshuffle in the Cabinet. I honestly don't know why the press insists on calling them even mini-reshuffles when the vast majority of the government stays the same. It's not so much a mini-reshuffle as a nano-reshuffle. But that's by the by. As per usual at these events there has been the usual burst of rumours that Blair and Brown are at each other throats, or at the very least banging on each other's walls and generally being un-neighbourly*. This BBC article if fairly typical of the reportage. The third paragraph runs thus:

So, after days of damaging speculation over the claimed rift between the prime minister and his chancellor over the appointment of Alan Milburn, Mr Blair has emerged the inevitable victor.

I think this is the really important bit, and typically it misrepresents the conflict at issue here. The real conflict in the UK government is not, I feel, between Mr Blair and Mr Brown, but rather between their supporters and, for want of another word, their respective political hangers-on.

In recent years the Brown camp has been getting desperate. After all, their horse is getting on. If he does not become leader of the party soon then he might never manage that. As Chancellor he has the second greatest amount of patronage to dish out, but it is but a lake compared to the Prime Minister. Mr Blair's camp are, of course, not wanting anything to happen to endanger their own position. The sniping and back-biting is really quite pitiful, but I suppose utterly to be expected.

Of course, I'm sure Brown and Blair disagree on various things. It would be remarkable if they did not. But, unlike some of their attendants, both men know that rocking the boat too much merely sinks the boat. This was very clear with the revolt over Tuition fees last year, when Brown did the political equivalent of give his hangers on a clip around the ear for being so stupid. Doubtless it saved Tony Blair's premiership. What it also did, though this is not perhaps appreciated by most people, is that it also saved Gordon Brown's Chancellorship. After all, what disagreements that do exist between the to are mostly disagreements of detail rather than policy.

I also note of late there are occasional rumours that Tony Blair would prefer John Kerry to win over George Bush. I'm skeptical, to say the least, that Tony Blair is making any plans. Recent British history shows that to be a very bad idea. John Major very strongly backed Bush41 in 1992. Not surprisingly Clinton slammed the door in his face when he was elected. Tony Blair is not going to make that mistake with either candidate.

I am fairly willing to bet some hanger-on made a typical comment "Mr Kerry would make things easier for Tony", and voila, this is what Tony Blair things. Hangers-on are not the most reliable sources of information, desperate to convince anyone (and themselves) that they are important. Sure, Tony Blair and George Bush don't see eye to eye on a number of issues. George Bush and Dick Cheney don't see eye to eye on the FMA either. But I haven't read anywhere that this would stop them being an effective team in office. I don't see any evidence that the disagreements between Bush and Blair have harmed their personal relationship either.

That is all.

* Tony Blair lives at No.10 Downing Street, Gordon Brown at No.11

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