Later this summer, on 2 August, Tony Blair’s government will reach its most significant milestone yet. It will become the longest-serving Labour government in history, surpassing the record of six years and three months held by Clem Attlee between July 1945 and October 1951.
There is no denying the magnitude of the achievement. Tony Blair has demonstrated that Labour can indeed be the natural party of government. He is already the first Labour leader to win two consecutive full terms, and there is little reason why he should not go on to a third.
Blair has secured his electoral triumphs by creating a coalition around New Labour. His particular talent has been to draw together widely divergent and often contradictory interests. Before the 1997 election he was able to appeal simultaneously to big business and the trade unions, to the young and the old, to the working and middle classes, to feminists and supporters of family values, to unionists and republicans, to pro-Europeans as well as the Eurosceptic Murdoch press.
This coalition was based on the Prime Minister’s personal charm, his youth, a palpable yearning for national renewal, and a strong element of self-delusion from all parties involved. The remarkable thing has not been how quickly the coalition has fallen apart; it has been how well it has hung together. But now it has partly collapsed, and this weekend Mr Blair is battling to sustain the allegiance of perhaps the most important of the interest groups that gave him their allegiance six years ago, the pro-European business community.
This group has taken its time to get wise to the Prime Minister. They have lived through his declaration, in the run-up to the 1997 general election, that he ‘loved’ the pound.