Ten years at the top

A DECADE ago when Labour leader John Smith died suddenly my mother asked me on the phone “does it mean we can have Neil Kinnock back?”

“I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that”, I told her.

I think I knew immediately that it would be Tony Blair, even before Gordon Brown decided not to stand.
Neil had saved the Labour Party, but he couldn’t beat the Tories.

This week was the 10th anniversary of Tony Blair’s leadership of the Labour Party.
It was expected to be one of his most difficult, but events turned out differently.

He faced a debate on the Butler Report on the failure of intelligence over the Iraq War.

Just like the time when Neil Kinnock took on Margaret Thatcher over the Westland crisis, it was an opportunity for the leader of the opposition Michael Howard to wound the Prime Minister.
Instead like Neil, he blew his big chance.

In the debate I asked him how he could say he was, and still is, in favour of the war, but also say he wishes he’d voted against it.

Like many MPs I voted against the war and I respect those who came to a different decision.
At the time it was a tough call to make, but you can’t have it both ways.

So instead of the Prime Minister, it was Michael Howard who left Westminster for the summer recess with his own MPs grumbling about his leadership.

Michael Howard is the fourth Conservative leader that Tony Blair has faced in those ten years.
When he took over from Iain Duncan Smith he made an immediate impact, but on this week’s evidence in a year’s time Tony Blair could be facing his fifth opponent at the Dispatch Box.