The Spectator

Labour sleaze

The impotence of Emperor Blair is a pitiful sight

Edward Gibbon would recognise it: the air of decadence, the smell of death which hangs over the New Labour empire this week. The impotence of Emperor Blair is a pitiful sight. His protestations of the innocence of Senator Blunkett — which once would have swung the public behind him and turned the condemnation upon Blunkett’s accusers — now inspire contempt. Another who would recognise the position of the government this week is John Major. Several times in the dying months of his government he found himself similarly overwhelmed by charges of sleaze; he would defend his minister to the death, then the minister would be forced to resign anyway. The inevitable question then was: and how long before you, too, fall on your sword?

No doubt the Prime Minister will view the resignation of the Work and Pensions Secretary as a minor matter. Under New Labour the disgrace of resignation from public office, for which John Profumo had to atone with a lifetime of charitable works, has been reduced to a few months in a sin-bin from which, like a basketball player caught treading on an opponent’s toes, a minister can soon return to the action. Even if Mr Blunkett is unlikely to return to the Cabinet, he will undoubtedly pop up in some public position — say, as Governor of Bermuda or ambassador to some agreeable South American state, which is even better paid than his Cabinet job.

Sympathetic voices within the BBC, too, were dismissive about the significance of David Blunkett’s resignation. A few minutes after the resignation was announced, a correspondent on News 24, James Landale, was making the preposterous suggestion that the Prime Minister would emerge stronger from it, on the grounds that it would give him a chance to freshen up his Cabinet before the conclusion of the Conservative leadership election.

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