Saturday, June 23, 2007

Definitely change, and clearly continuity

On the day before he becomes leader of his party, what more could Brown possibly want than to have virtually all the papers pushing a "Strong Brown saves Britain from weak Blair and the French" line? After a couple of days of headlines where Brown - some might say successfully - created the perception of reaching out beyond tribal party politics, we now have a brilliantly timed moment of Brown's "strength" at the EU Summit which he wasn't even attending. But how did it happen?

If you look at the path the British position at the EU Summit has taken over the past 48 hours it seems rather an odd one when placed against what we know about Blair. Initially the French protectionist move was dismissed; then we were seeking "clarity" of their position; next we were saying "you know what, it's actually not that bad really"; and then suddenly we're back to square one after a phone call where Brown is alleged to have "ordered" Blair to tell the French to stick it.

Thus we have "Brown forces Blair to stand up and veto a French stitch-up" (Mail), "Brown acts to avert Blair ‘cave-in’" (The Times), "EU agrees mini-treaty as Brown calls on Blair to stiffen his resolve" (Indy), "Go back and stand up to the French, Brown orders Blair" (Guardian), "Blair's EU 'cave-in' ends truce with Brown" (Telegraph), "Brown vetoes Blair and France" (Sun).

Call me a feral cynic if you will, but what if the British concession was never actually serious? Put it like this, if one accepts that Blair was genuinely about to concede to Sarkozy (and Brown wasn't) then one is also accepting that Blair is on the Left of Brown when it comes to economics and the markets. That is after all the implication behind the headlines. Brown as the anti-protectionist free-marketeer against the protectionist left winger Blair.

Say what you like about Blair and his ten years in Government, but it simple isn't credible that Brown is on the Right of him. So how could such a situation as today's chorus of headlines actually come about? I'd say there are two possible explanations. The first (unlikely) explanation is that the whole thing was part of a news management operation from start to finish. That Blair and Brown were complicit in creating a "Brown stands up to the EU" line the day before he took over.

The second (and more likely) explanation is that the rivalry between the two men is so bitter that Blair decided he would try and stitch Brown up by agreeing to something that he knew Brown wouldn't accept. This would mean Brown, upon taking the reigns of power, would have to go back to the table and renegotiate, finding himself embroiled in a mess not of his making.

As an aside here it's interesting that in the Daily Mail, a newspaper edited by Gordon Brown's close friend, Paul Dacre, that the phrase "stitch-up" is actually used, albeit in relation to the French rather than Blair. It's also worth noting that when the news broke about Britain accepting the French position the words "cave-in" began to appear in media. They were always in quotes, yet always unattributed. Someone somewhere was briefing that line.

Next up is the "phone call". When you look at the papers what you see - consistently - is the line that a phone call was made by Brown to Blair which involved Brown "ordering" Blair about what he must do. Now, clearly that view of reality is not something that will have come from anyone in the Blair camp. Can anyone seriously imagine Blair's spokesman briefing the press that his boss took orders from his inferior? Exactly.

I'd say it's far more likely that the conversation involved Brown telling Blair that his attempt to stitch him up had misfired and left him with two choices. He could either (a) carry on safe in the knowledge that Brown would ensure the phrase "cave-in" was everywhere and that he would make sure Blair was remembered as the man that threw Britain away; or (b) he could U-Turn and be briefly humiliated by Brown but ultimately save himself from looking a complete tit as a result of his final act as PM.

Putting it simply, it was a win-win situation for Brown. In the first instance he knew the press, being largely euro-sceptic, would pump the "Blair cave-in" line for all that it was worth. And in the second he knew he could push the "Strong Brown" line if Blair was willing to capitulate. Of course, this is all wild speculation on my part, but the lines across the media in the past 48 hours seemed amazingly syncronised that all I could think about was "continuity and change".


Praguetory said...

It's hard to believe that the Blair/Brown spats won't continue into the future. Their relationship is poison. Throw in the substantial number of grassroots who are aggrieved that they were denied a choice in the leadership and it should be interesting times ahead.

Sabretache said...

Cracking analysis.

Power Politics has become an exercise in the management of our supine MSM that simply has to have its regular fix of tummy tickling by those pulling the levers. The Dour one is shaping up as the consummate Mark II Spinner.

Time to get ready for wodges of the same - an infinitely depressing prospect

Plus c'est la meme chose, plus ├ža change.

Anonymous said...

When I saw today's headlines last night I knew that it had been orchestrated by the Brown camp, the appropriately helpful headlines were duly delivered at Blair's expense.
But as always with Brown he wins the battle but could end up making so many enemies that he might lose the war.

Darren G. Lilleker said...

Brown knows only too well that if you are talking a language the media like you will seize supporting headlines - undermining Blair and his European partners was a masterstroke

Old BE said...

Yes but we've still got the constitution whether we like it or not.

Anonymous said...

Ed is quite right.

This dust up with the French is a put up job to deflect the MSM away from the fact that Europe go its Constitution yesteday.

How did is happen though? When I voted all those years ago to join a Common Market it seemed such a good Idea, no one told me the ultimate aim was politcal Union into a European superstate.

Chris Paul said...

Whatever. They don't get on. This may be genuine spat. But it not left right or protection freetrade is it? I thought Sarkozy had sneaked through an unequal deal where his people get access to our market, but he protects his?

Wasn't that it?

I don't think Blair would cooperate in a put up job if it damaged his legacy. He'd be prepared to do it the other way round where he was robust and Brown was relaxed. But not the other way round.

Ted Foan said...

I have to agree with Praguetory about the poisonous relationship between Blair and Brown.

At Wednesday's PMQs not once did Blair look directly at Brown and everytime he sat down he had his back to him. This is not new - they have always studiously avoided eye contact. There are never been any matey asides or knowing grins exchanged.

I'm sure that Brown has already worked out where (and how many times) he will put the knife into Blair in the next few months.

Dirty business, politics.

Anonymous said...

I think Blair would do anything -- anything at all -- to improve his next job. And his next job is likely to be in Brussels. Presumably his resignation date was set with this summit in mind, and his position there was always predicated on his needs and wishes, not those of his electorate.