Squandering Political Capital

Tim Ireland at Bloggerheads makes a much quoted appeal to oust Tony Blair from power.

For the good of the Labour Party, for the good of the country, and for the good of the whole bloody world, Tony Blair must not leave Downing St voluntarily… and if he does, he must be forced to resign in shame.

Tim itemises the transgressions of the Blair administration, following the lead of Chicken Yoghurt, earlier in the week. The message is similar in both cases: We are going too far down an authoritarian road, and it is up to us to take a stand, and make it stop. And moreover: How have we let it come this far? Why hasn’t Blair been ejected?

Criticising Blair and everything he stands for has become a noble art. For those of us still angry over major abuses of power, it would be galling if he resigned over some trifle, some minor scandal. The same is true for George W Bush: That the Republicans may lose the Congressional Mid-Terms over the Dubai Port Scandal is something of an insult. How come a benign administration issue destroys so much political capital, while torture seems to barely register, and might even be a vote winner (via Daily Dish).

It is in the concept of ‘Political Capital’, and indeed Blair’s own “Hisotry Will Judge Me” comments, that I find some succour in these depressing times. He began his time in office with an astonishing amount of ‘Political Capital’ to spend. Each scandal of the Blair administration (remember Peter Mandelson resigning twice, remember how 9/11 was a good day to “bury bad news”, remember Stephen Byers’ ministerial career) eroded that capital. Each act of hypocrisy, each doublethink declaration that someone has acted with propriety, erodes that capital. Each disgraceful statement from Charles Clarke that we deride, ensures another voter, and more importantly, another political ally, distances themselves administration. As Labour’s political capital is consumed, Blair’s personal support wanes. It is beginning to look like he can no longer govern.

There is a lag in politics that surpasses anything that the economists may be able to calculate. Events that happen today have an effect many years down the line. The protests against Blair’s policies in 2003 – indeed, all the criticisms since 1997 – may not have achieved their stated aims, but they had an effect that we only begin to perceive now. They were not pointless, they did not fail. Blair was not ejected from power in last year’s election, but he was crippled, fatally wounded. He cannot run the country properly, because he no longer has the majority to push through the reforms he planned.

someone has to be called to account or the next batch of power-mad bastards – here or abroad – will think they can get away with exactly the same thing.

It may appear as if Blair is not being called to account. When he goes, it will indeed be over some small matter. It will be even more irritating for those of us who were annoyed by the big things. But make no mistake, when he resigns, Nick Robinson and the rest will say: “It was about time.” Blair’s departure from the field will not be to the applause of a cup-winner, but the collective sigh of relief as a poorly performing striker is substituted, early. He may announce his own resignation, but history will chronicle an incomplete Premiership, a job half-done. Let us hope that this example of potential wasted, greatness squandered, will serve as a lesson to all future leaders.

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