There is a quiet scandal developing in Britain. The Prime Ministers most trusted advisor, Lord Levy, was arrested for a second time last week for the cash for honours scandal – where Blair’s team are accused of securing donations or loans to the Labour Party in exchange for donors being made Lords. Just ten days ago Blair’s executive assistant, Ruth Turner, was arrested in this same inquiry. Several others, including his Chief of Staff, have been questioned under caution. Handwritten notes from Tony Blair have been found which appear to confirm his complicity in the offers and arrangements – a criminal offence, if proven. He has been interviewed twice by the police as a witness, at this stage of their inquiry.
Many may not care that Blair’s team seek to play at the edges of the law to secure cash for a fiscally troubled political party, but one of Blair’s commitments in coming to office was to end the era of sleaze which he said characterised the previous Conservative government. A commitment he did not live up to. It is this mismatch between word and deed that is providing the focus for attention.
He has not lived up to other commitments. For example, despite spending billions more on a public health system and leveraging public: private partnerships for health care, the system itself is in decline. This despite a promise to have the “best publicly financed health care system in the world”. In education, “his absolute top priority” on coming to office in 1997, one in twelve schools are now failing their students so completely, according the Governments own school evaluators, that they deserve to be closed. His promise of a new public service for a new century sounds hollow.
Blair’s government was also committed to an ethical foreign policy – a phrase no longer in the lexicon of an Iraq war burdened administration. He has not apologised over agreed deceptions in terms of the reasons Britain went to war with Iraq, nor has he apologised for various “errors of judgements” which have led to significant casualties, including the very public suicide of a senior public servant.
Blair has promised to step down before the next Labour Party annual conference in September 2007 – a promise he will be required to keep. His legacy looks very problematic at this time. If he is arrested before he leaves office, he will have a kind of Jeffrey Archer reputation of being an intelligent rougue who did his best, but focused more on spin, deceit and deception than on substance and sustainable change. If he escapes prosecution, he will have a Houdini-Clinton like reputation for getting away with it, despite the evidence.
None of this is good news for Gordon Brown, Blair’s heir apparent. In addition to the fact that he is dull, dogged and deceitful character himself who has very high control needs, he has no presence and no verve. Dull as ditchwater (despite being very intelligent), Brown will spend his time in office apologising for Blair’s inability to secure needed changes in public service – failings that Brown himself has much to do with. Worse, as Blairs real number two, he will suffer from
David Cameron, the very Blair like leader of the Conservative Party in Britain, will be the beneficiary of all this. Smart, focused and with strong appeal to middle class and green voters, Cameron is likely to win a general election, unless his party starts in-fighting.
At the bottom of this quagmire is a reality – the Labour Party Is a financial mess, with fewer than 300,000 members nationally. There are more people watching football on a single Saturday than belong to the party. While the Tory party under Cameron has secured large amounts of new funds, it too is in debt. Who knows if the Liberals have any cash at all. Corruption and insolvency appear to go together with deceit.