0
Weekly feature SO when will he go? Over the weekend the UK media consensus (including this columnist's view) was that Tony Blair should resign at latest during the summer, but preferably earlier, leaving Gordon Brown time to get into the saddle for the Labour Party conference in the autumn. However, a little–reported and even less commented–upon speech by Mr Blair last Thursday night indicated that an early departure may still be far from the prime minister's mind. The speech was made in Sedgefield, his Durham constituency, towards the end of a week that, to put it mildly, had not gone well for him. He had been obliged to rely on Conservative votes to get his Education Bill through a parliamentary vote as some seventy MPs of his own party opposed it or abstained from voting; at his monthly press conference he had been forced into accepting full responsibility for the scandal of loans–for–peerages; and, worst of all, he had been implicitly attacked by the treasurer of the Labour Party, Jack Dromey, for keeping knowledge of the loans within a small group at No 10 and for driving a wedge between the Party and the government. Was Mr Blair on the defensive in front of his constituents? Not at all. What he wanted to talk to them about was the need to press ahead with an agenda for change: “Ten years ago,” he said, “the Labour Party debated the new Clause Four, modernising its aim and values. I believe we now need to return to that debate but in a more practical and concrete form. Now, as it was then, the issue is how we pursue our historic values while recognising that the means we use must be based on the challenges of today's world and the expectations of today's citizens.” Does that sound like a man with his retirement speech in his back pocket? Hardly. And in case there was any doubt, Mr Blair went on: “So let's have this debate. The starting point will be a celebration of the achievements of our first nine years but our deliberations should also look forward to the challenges of the next decade. Through this process we can lay important foundations as our thinking starts to turn to our fourth–term programme.” (My italics.) Note well: “our” deliberations, “our thinking” and “our” fourth–term programme. Not “the party's” or ”my successor's”. No, our. If Mr Blair had already announced that he would be standing for a fourth term of office, he would not have needed to change one word of that Sedgefield speech. Obviously, it had been drafted before the roof fell in on him last week but the fact that he still chose to deliver it in its original form suggests that Mr Blair has still not realised or accepted the enormity of what has happened to him. Notwithstanding the instant reforms he is introducing to legislation on party funding or the sudden transparency over nominations for peerages, Mr Blair is totally discredited as a man to be trusted over anything, and he has shown his disdain for the party on whose caravan he rode to electoral victory. Perhaps he will find a way to hang on to power for two or three years yet. But the service he has rendered his party and the country is now exhausted and the longer he remains the more damage he will do. In this space on 21 September 2002 I began my column: “I have seen the American future, and it frightens me!” I had been studying the Bush administration's first National Security Strategy which introduced the principle of pre–emptive action against hostile states and terrorist groups in place of the old policy of containment and deterrent which had served America's interests from the late–1940s until the Berlin Wall came down in 1999. The new strategy was soon put into effect over Iraq, with less than impressive results. It might have been thought, therefore that the 2006 National Security Strategy, the first since 2002, issued last week, would show some sign of learning from experience. But no: it reaffirms the policy of pre–emptive action and identifies Iran as the country likely to present the greatest future challenge to the United States. The words used are these: “The United States reserves the right to take anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack.” There is even a section which begins, “The world is better off if tyrants know that they pursue weapons of mass destruction at their peril”, just as if Saddam Hussein's WMDs had actually been found. In fact, was it not the United States and Britain which pursued non–existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at considerable peril to peace in the Middle East? China is chided for “old ways of thinking and acting” in its competition for energy resources (what new ways does the US use?) and the future of the relationship with Russia will “depend of the policies, foreign and domestic, that it adopts”. Only in the section dealing with democratic development is there any sign of change. In 2002 I particularly questioned a passage about the development of democracies and “a battle for the future of the Muslim world.” Four years on, the talk is more about “effective democracies” which means, apparently, not just elections but also democratic institutions that are in tune with long–held religious beliefs and cultural traditions. So perhaps something has been learnt. In a way, I suppose, it is admirable that any nation is so open about its strategic intentions. But the insufferably patronising tone of this document towards other nations and its aggressive tone towards others are wholly counterproductive, especially coming from an administration that has made a complete hash of its military and defence policy since it came into office. Once again I have to say: I have seen the American future, and it frightens me!