Blair-Brown switch not that simple

I WARMED instantly to Tony Blair. The feeling lasted about as long as one tasty soundbite. It seems barely believable now, but when John Smith died so suddenly and sadly in 1994, Blair seemed fresh, plausible and wholesome.

I WARMED instantly to Tony Blair. The feeling lasted about as long as one tasty soundbite.

It seems barely believable now, but when John Smith died so suddenly and sadly in 1994, Blair seemed fresh, plausible and wholesome.

Back then, as a rank-and-file Labour member I got to vote in the leadership race. The rule of one-member-one-vote which brought Blair in still applies - so all this talk of Blair "handing over" to Gordon Brown is so much poppycock.

As a party member, Blair will have one vote in the choice of his successor - just the same as Ipswich MP Chris Mole, Alf Smith from Goole Working Men's Club, and my sister.


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Brown might well be the next PM, but so might Robin Cook or Clare Short. If Blair does quit before the next election, every sitting Labour MP is a potential candidate for the top job.

One thing is certain, though - whoever is to lead the country had better be good at projecting themselves in 12-second bites. So it won't be John Prescott, then.

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The first time I really took notice of Blair was when, as Shadow Home Secretary, he made that now famous speech to the party conference about being "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime".

That's when I warmed to him. I should have realised he was just making a pitch for the leadership on the basis of his skill at 12-second snatches of TV. And there is no doubt he's a master of that.

I'm sure Blair believes he's a man of principle and integrity. But then, shallow vessels are often proud of how deep they are. Just as lazy people are often the ones who make most noise about how hard-working they are - and people who cry at Disney movies probably think they're very emotional.

Bizarrely, one of Blair's predecessors who really was a man of deep principle found himself portrayed all too often as the opposite.

I remember seeing Neil Kinnock speak at a rally in the build-up to the 1987 general election.

Here was an intelligent, impassioned man relating historical events to current reality, timeless principle to both the past and the future. He spoke for well over an hour without notes, brilliantly and thrillingly. He deserved, and got, a rapturous ovation. It was by some distance the finest political speech I have heard.

As he left the stage, I turned to the friend with me and remarked: "That was wonderful. But I bet they pick out ten seconds for the news tonight that will make him look a complete idiot." And I was right.

You can't really blame media bias, though. There is no way to convey the complexity and power of a long speech in one brief news clip - any more than a typical Blairite mantra would stand up to 60 minutes' exposure.

Poor Kinnock, unscripted, unprompted, thinking on his feet, was an absolute master of the old school of live oratory, and an absolute disaster in the soundbite age.

That's why Blair is so perfect a leader for our times. He has almost none of the qualities that might have made Kinnock a political giant in an earlier age - but he has just the right shallow slickness for the age of TV advertising.

But will he now accept that the credits are starting to roll, and quietly make way for the next presenter? Not necessarily.

First impressions after the election last week were that it was a pretty good result all round.

Since 1997, the only real opposition to the government has come from Labour's own back benches. And, paradoxically, having fewer of them might give them more power to oppose.

On the other hand, rebellion is safe and easy when you know it's not really going to make much difference. A smaller majority might just make Labour's MPs stick together more.

There are plenty of contentious issues on the agenda - immigration, ID cards, imprisonment without trial, student top-up fees and more. It's going to be a bumpy ride for Tony and Co. I hope.

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