Will Cameron’s strategy hasten Blair’s departure time-table?
Tomorrow’s Commons vote on the Government’s Education Bill is taking on a huge significance with commentators trying to assess the impact of almost almost every political development, whether linked to the Bill or not, on what will happen.
Thus yesterday’s announcement of 800 British troops being withdrawn from Iraq is being seen as a move by Downing Street to keep the rebellion down. The latest sleaze allegations, that Labour solicited loans rather than gifts to get round the disclosure rules, is assessed in terms of its impact tomorrow.
To add to the pressure there’s a YouGov poll of Labour Party members showing that the vast majority support the position of the MPs who are threatening to vote against.
A big part of Blair’s problems has come from David Cameron’s decision that his party will support the bill’s second reading. In almost his first act as Tory leader Cameron last December put Blair on the spot by offering his support and the idea that this will only get through with Tory votes is making the Government’s position very hard.
As Andrew Grice noted in the Independent “When Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, held one-to-one meetings with about 20 backbenchers in recent days, the most common grumble about the Bill was: “I don’t like the fact that the Tories are supporting it.” Full marks, then, to Mr Cameron, who has played a blinder on the issue so far. By saying that Mr Blair’s independent trust schools would be a return to the Tories’ grant-maintained schools – which they wouldn’t – he fuelled the Labour rebellion.”
But the challenge for Tony Blair is wider than just education as Polly Toynbee writes in the Guardian this morning, “this bill always tapped deeper questions than school governance”.
Noting the watering down that has taken place Toynbee goes on: “…Will this turmoil keep happening, MPs are asking. Nuclear power will be next. Is Trident already being replaced, as Jack Straw’s stammering inability to deny it yesterday suggests? MPs blame Blair’s reckless policy-making for havoc in the NHS; had his “reform” been less drastic there would now have been only a good story to tell with waiting lists falling. One leading moderate says: “We can see Tony Blair’s direction of travel but most MPs now don’t want to go his way. This time we put sand in his tank, but will this happen over and over again?” Will the rest of the third term be more conflict, just as he squandered most of the second term in the dust of Baghdad? What a waste! MPs say they will take no more abuse about being “roadblocks to reform”, as if marketising were the only reform in town. The Blair brigade’s riposte is this: if they oppose his reforms, where is their, or Brown’s, alternative programme?…
In the betting you can now get 2.8/1 on Tony Blair surviving for another 21 months. Gordon Brown’s price as “next Labour leader” has eased just a touch to 0.37/1. At the moment I am keeping out of both markets.
MPs will start voting at 7pm tomorrow night and the result should be known about 15 minutes later.