One of the faintly annoying things about last week’s coverage of Mr Blair’s resignation announcement is that not enough attention was being paid to the extent to which he was, at bottom, being deposed by his party.
It’s true that his departure doesn’t look much like Mrs Thatcher’s in 1990, but the underlying politics are pretty much the same: if you’re supported by the Cabinet but by not nearly enough of the back-benchers, you can’t remain Prime Minister for long. (The funny thing in Mrs T’s case is that she forgot this crucial rule: in her first term, she knew half the Cabinet didn’t want her as Prime Minister, but she had a keener sense than they did that this didn’t really matter.)
Shrewd observers (well, Jamie K at B&T) have been saying for a while now that the Blairite response would be along the lines of wanting to dissolve the ungrateful people and elect another one, that he was too good for us, etc., and we got this in great steaming dollops from John Rentoul at the weekend. But Rentoul at least acknowledged that “the real story behind his promise in September 2004 not to fight a fourth election” was “not a mistake, it was a tactic of self-preservation”, and that Blair was leaving office because he was being forced out.
And I’m writing this because I’ve just read Avi Shlaim’s new piece up at tehgraun, which starts with the words, “Tony Blair’s opposition to an immediate ceasefire in the Lebanon war last summer precipitated his downfall.” And I think that’s more or less right. Certainly in my neck of the Labour woods, there was a perceptible shift in attitudes to Mr Blair’s continued tenure in office last Summer over precisely this issue, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the historians do ultimately judge that it was this more than anything else that meant that he left office in 2007 rather than 2008, which is what he must have been thinking at minimum when he said he’d serve for a “full term”.