CAN the Labour government's current difficulties be compared with the declining days of John Major's administration in 1996/7, as several commentators are suggesting? Can the Conservatives expect to make the same electoral capital out of Labour's problems that Labour made of John Major's troubles?
It is certainly the case that there is the same unpleasant odour of sleaze in Whitehall as there was ten years ago and the same tendency for the government to be at the mercy of events over which it seems to have little control. However, there are also important differences. The first is that in 1997 Labour held a 25-point polling advantage over the Tories whereas today the two parties are level-pegging and the surge of Conservative support following David Cameron's election as leader seems to have subsided. Another difference, one that perhaps work in the Conservative's favour, is that the sleaze of the mid1990s tended to centre on individual's actions whereas Mr Blair is himself clearly implicated over the issue of loans-for-peerages and other ethically questionable decisions.
A THIRD consideration is that, whereas John Major had run out of ideas, Tony Blair still seems to be full of them and wanting to remain in charge of implementing them. On balance, then, and unless the next round of polling and the local elections show a significant drop in Labour's support following this week's “Black Wednesday”, the question seems to centre more on Mr Blair's future than on Labour's continuation in office. One has to wonder just how much more the prime minister can take as, one after another, his closest cabinet colleagues show their weaknesses and are vilified in public for them.