Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dangerous and uncharted waters for Mr Blair

Heath attacking the Leadership at the 1983 Conservative Party Conference

Party conferences can be a risky time for Party leaders…and wannabe party leaders too. Heath’s coded attacks on Thatcher in 1983 stung and showed what can happen if you are attacked from the podium. (Heath’s power to wound was weakened as the sulk dragged on tho...)
Then there is the risk that your speech will flop (IDS’s performance as the ‘quiet man’ was much derided, while David Davies delivered a lacklustre performance last year that cost him the Conservative Party leadership).
Perhaps even worse is if you drop a gaff and are attacked by the wider party (anyone remember Anne Widdecombe’s hard-hitting line on cannabis being slapped down by fellow Shadow-Ministers like Portillo and Maude when Hague was leader?).
As I have already posted, it must be with much relief for him that Ming Campbell got through the ordeal unscathed last week- it now seems likely that heath permitting, his position is secure and he will lead the Lib-Dems into the next general election.
One man that won’t be leading his party into the next election is, of course, Tony Blair. As they meet in Manchester, his party face the most difficult conference for a generation. Under the full gaze of the media, any dissent from Ministers will be pounced upon, the mood of the parliamentary party will be minuely dissected all in the rarefied atmosphere of having 2000 activists or so present.
Blair’s main problem of course will be that the conference will not be discussing the one issue the political classes are interested in- the battle for the succession. Apparently in New Labour control freakery style the 'Conference Arrangements Committee' (CAC) has ruled out of order 17 motions from CLPs on the leadership election.
Keeping things on-track from a Blairite viewpoint is going to be a party and press-management job of Herculean proportions.
If he fails to do so, it is unlikely he will be in post by Christmas.
Before Peter Mandleson took over the running of the Labour Party conference in the early 1990’s, the whole proceedings would be a shambles. Ministers and delegates would attack each other bitterly and chaos would reign as the party showed no semblance of unity. Often Labour’s poll rating would actually fall after another disastrous conference week. I wonder if history may be about to repeat itself?
For Mr Blair personally, his party and indeed those who want to succeed him (and all their supporters) the stakes could not be higher.


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