Why can't disgraced former Home Secretary (and apparently still a leadership hopeful) Charles Clarke make up his mind? Is he for or against infighting within the Labour party? It's only been a week since he was firmly against it, two months after being for it, and now he's all in favour again, publicly calling Gordon Brown "stupid".
Talk about flip-flopping - at least John Kerry only changed his mind once...
So unpopular is Blair, the Daily Mail's cheering on Socialist Workers
It really is the end times... Extracts from today's Quentin Letts column, reporting on Blair's visit to Quintin Kynaston school in north London yesterday, where he announced his plans to depart office within twelve months:
"By 1240 hours the noise levels were becoming intolerable and blue-uniformed children were running round with 'Blair Must Go' banners which bore the Socialist Worker logo...(Title typo edited - whoops...)
"A Police Dog Section van pulled up. 'Cherie Blair's arrived,' said someone, most unfairly.
"Within 15 minutes the volume had risen, the placards were multplying, Blairite aides were starting to gulp and we had a very satisfactory near-riot in progress. Schoolchildren were chanting 'Tony, Tony, Tony, out! out! out!'...
"Police reinforcements marched in from the south. A grown-up was trying to bribe the children, offering them a trip to McDonalds if they would leave the scene. They declined, egged on by a woman from International Socialist Resistance who had a megaphone.
"Two beefy blokes hopped out of a van from 'Even Trakway 24-hour barrier hotline' and began, noisily, to erect a crowd-control barrier. Officers shouted warnings about Section 14 of the Public Order Act and pushed a large body of schoolchildren to a position 30 yards from the school entrance... Fistifuffs nearly broke out...
"TV camera crews were now filming action shots and a previously placid man who had been waving two Lebanese flags found his collar being felt by a copper...
"Of Mr Blair we saw little. He arrived in a motorcade, to be met with heavy boos from the children behind the riot barriers and girly cheers from some selected goody-goodies who had been allowed to remain inside the school to meet the PM.
"He alighted from his bombproof Jaguar, ear-miked bodyguards shielding him from the terrorists of the Lower Remove. The swots clapped. The children behind the barriers yelled 'warmonger!' A police helicopter chatter-chattered overhead. With that Mr Blair disappeared inside to say his piece.
"All in all, a day to make old Kynastonians proud. The Bbritish education system at its very best."
Blair will step down "within the next 12 months"? Better than nothing, admittedly, but now he's got precisely the problem that he always said he'd have if he announced a date - no policy initiatives seen to be coming from him in the next 12 months will be deemed to have any authority whatsoever unless Brown (presumably, as heir apparent) seems to give his assent. Interesting... Has the PM just undermined his position even further?
After my speculation late yesterday, The New Statesman has finally put that David Miliband interview online. A quote I haven't seen before:
"We look at the debate which says, 'Either we have a smooth transition or you have a train crash.' Obviously you want a smooth transition. But we want something more. These are people who are ministers, who are party MPs, party supporters; these are people of no party, who are in the voluntary sector or business or the public sector, and they want an energetic, progressive project. So what I believe is that we need more than a smooth transition to Gordon Brown - we need an energising, refreshing transition to Gordon Brown"
You don't get much more energising than a major fight...
Still, Blair's expected to make an announcement in the next hour
. It's wait and see time once again. Let's just hope the wait isn't too long, eh? I doubt there's anyone left who hasn't had enough of this infantile nonsense...
Since this morning's resignations, a few rumours have begun to circulate about the possibility that a senior cabinet minister is set to resign. Whether there's any truth to these, I have no idea - Tory blogger Iain Dale, who has a fair few Westminster contacts, also mentions it, while Sunny Hundal has a plausible suggestion.
However, this whole affair, from the suggestions of the 31st May departure date for Blair (today dismissed by the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman) to the various resignations, reminded me of this article from a few days back by the New Statesman's Political Editor Martin Bright (the man who broke the story about the Home Office's failure to deport an ex-con terrorist suspect back in May).
In his blog post, dated 3rd September, Bright reports on a conversation with an "ultra-Blairite" source who, Bright claims,
"thought it would be madness not to announce the timetable before Manchester... he said that if the PM left it too late 'the situation will become intolerable and it will be impossible to push through new reforms'"
Bright went on to argue that
"The Prime Minister is becoming an increasingly islolated figure and is now flying virtually solo... Even his closest political allies recognise that Blair himself is becoming a serious problem and even a potential block on the reforms necessary to secure the new Labour legacy."
Now, hidden amidst the resignation scandal, comes news
"Mr [David] Miliband, seen as a potential deputy leadership contender, used an interview with The New Statesman magazine to make clear his support for the chancellor.
"'The smooth transition to Gordon Brown, the energising, refreshing transition to Gordon Brown - not to anyone else - is a transition that is about ideas and values more than about dates,' he says.
"Mr Miliband also confirms reports that he was "seriously worried" about Mr Blair's refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon last month."
As I say, idle speculation - and I am a tad drunk to boot - but is it just a coincidence that it was Miliband who has been credited with coming up with the 31st May as the date Blair would announce his resignation?
Long tipped as a future Labour leader, the youthful-looking 41-year-old has seen his star rise rapidly in the dying months of the Blair era, entering the Cabinet just after last year's General Election and being appointed Secretary of State at DEFRA in May this year. Yet now - just as another leadership crisis kicks off that he may have helped precipitate - he seems to be throwing his weight behind Brown in a magazine long reputed to be Brownite. It's always good to get in with the new boss before their promotion if you can, after all...Update: Iain Dale has news of David's brother
, the Brownite Ed Miliband, having cancelled all his meetings yesterday, and asks "Was there a meeting of the Brownite clans?"
Meanwhile, ePolitix has more on that David Miliband interview
On the blog of Sky News' Adam Boulton
(who recently married one of Blair's former spin doctors, an event attended by the Prime Minister along with Blair loyalists David Blunkett, Tessa Jowell and Peter Hain), there is more on Miliband's involvement in this little spat - put in a rather more positive light than some other press reports of his recent actions:
"in a move clearly designed to bring some stability to the party, arch-Blairite David Miliband, the man who said on Monday that the Prime Minister would be gone within the year, has given an interview asking for an 'energising, refreshing transition' - to Gordon Brown."
Please also not the similarity in wording to Martin Bright's piece - Bright used "ultra-Blairite" to describe his anonymous source; this piece describes Miliband as an "arch-Blairite". Hmmm...
A big welcome back to the blogroll for Labour MP Tom Watson, who I dropped when he became a government whip as he'd no longer be able to be interesting. But let's face it, anyone called "disloyal, discourteous and wrong" by our dear Prime Minister has got be alright. I also love the petulant PM's "you can't quit - you're fired!" nonsense mentioned further down that BBC report. Grow up, Tony...
The key bit from Watson's resignation letter to Tony:
"I no longer believe that your remaining in office is in the interest of either the party or the country. How and why this situation has arisen no longer matters. I share the view of the overwhelming majority of the party and the country that the only way the Party and the Government can renew itself in office is urgently to renew its leadership."
Considering that this has all kicked off in the last couple of hours, the extent of the fallout is hard to tell. A potential Geoffrey Howe moment
or yet another in a long succession of damp squibs thanks to Blair's continual refusal to accept that anyone else's opinions might have some validity?
Tim Ireland is compiling a linkdump about Watson's resignation
which will be worth keeping an eye on to see what's next.Update:
The UK Today has a handy roundup of the most recent Labour party spats
, in case you've lost track of them all...
The UK backs ditching "adequate" data protection
Sounds boring, eh? Especially when you find out that the EU, the most boring institution in the world bar the International Confederation of Accountancy and Algebra, is also involved.
However, following earlier outrage from the elected portion of the EU over plans to rubber-stamp the unilateral transfer of transatlantic air passenger data to US law enforcement agencies (visiting Auntie Flo in Toronto? Congratulations! You've won a CIA file with a bonus FBI record thrown in for free!), today MEPs will be voting on proposals to reduce the protection of our personal data that to date we have all (perhaps unknowingly) enjoyed.
Germany, Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the UK all appear to support the removal of the current European Commission restrictions that data can only be exchanged with non-EU states if “an adequate level of data protection is ensured in the third country”.
This would, in turn, free up the powers that be (guided down this path at the request of the US by our own dear Tony Blair during last year's UK presidency of the EU) to push even harder for the EU to approve the hand-over of detailed information on everyone who flies to North America from the EU when MEPs vote on the "EU/USA agreement on the use of passenger name record to prevent and combat terrorism and transnational crime, including organised crime" proposals tomorrow morning.
So, considering that our government is apparently so keen to overturn EU guidelines on protecting our privacy and to hand over various bits of private information to a foreign government (with no reciprocal handover of data on that country's citizens) - and especially considering that once again they are sneaking this in via the less heavily scrutinised EU - how far can we really trust our dear lords and masters when they tell us that our details will be safe once on their various planned identity databases?
Erm... "John Reid will sanction the forced removal of up to 32 Iraqis today after telling the high court he would ignore any last-minute legal challenge to their deportation."
Yes, that's right - the Home Secretary has announced that he will ignore legal challenges to his decisions.
Yes, that's right - the same Home Secretary who is in charge of the criminal justice system.
And that's ignoring the issue of whether or not we should consider deporting people to a country plagued by indiscriminate daily violence and kidnappings, arguably in a state of civil war, with an inadequate policing and justice system, severely damaged infrastructure, which the Foreign Office advises against travel to, and which is so dangerous that previous deportations have had to sneak into the country on a roundabout route in chartered planes...