Peter Oborne

The man who calls the shots

Peter Oborne says that the Prime Minister is a client of Rupert Murdoch’s global empire — and he decided to hold a referendum on the EU constitution only because the press magnate told him to

Peter Oborne says that the Prime Minister is a client of Rupert Murdoch’s global empire — and he decided to hold a referendum on the EU constitution only because the press magnate told him to

An essential part of the New Labour belief system is structured around the proposition that Tony Blair is a resolute, bold, decisive leader. The Prime Minister has worked hard to build and then to sustain this myth. Last October he informed the Labour party conference that ‘I can only go one way. I’ve not got a reverse gear.’ This pronouncement, made during a woeful attempt to emulate the oratorical successes of Margaret Thatcher two decades earlier, was palpable nonsense. Since then the Prime Minister has switched from contemptuous revulsion to warm-hearted affection for Ken Livingstone. He performed a last-minute somersault about holding an inquiry into weapons of mass destruction. This week came the biggest shift yet, with a damascene conversion over the proposed referendum on the European constitution, expected to receive the Prime Minister’s signature at Göteborg in June.

This was a humiliation, as Tony Blair’s nervous, high-pitched, petulant performance after being ordered to make a Commons statement on Tuesday showed. It was more humiliating still for those loyal ministers — Peter Hain, Charles Clarke, Denis MacShane, etc. — who have rallied behind the Blairite standard. Three weeks before Tony Blair’s stuttering Commons U-turn, poor MacShane, Minister for Europe, was informing MPs in lordly fashion that the government would never ‘surrender itself to the populist plebiscites of the Rothermere press’.

While these Blair loyalists looked ridiculous, the Prime Minister’s frontbench adversaries gloated. Chancellor Gordon Brown, sceptical about the constitution from the start, basked in quiet triumph. David Curry, a pro-European Tory MP, was accurate as well as wounding when he compared Tony Blair to John Major at his indecisive worst.

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