The longer they stay in power, the more prime ministers lose their political touch. This seems to be an unbreakable rule, and Tony Blair is emphatically not an exception. For most prime ministers, however, there is an important compensation. The longer they stay in Downing Street, the more accomplished they become at the art of government. They steadily get to understand the secret springs and mechanisms of power.
The funny thing is that Tony Blair has failed to mature in this way. Not only is he losing his political touch, but he is also no more competent today than he was when he entered Downing Street nearly seven years ago. There is a growing body of evidence to support this rather damning assertion. Last year’s Cabinet reshuffle, by a distance the most shambolic in living memory, was one eye-opener. Downing Street announced that the job of lord chancellor was being abolished with instant effect, then changed its mind a few hours later when officials pointed out that primary legislation would be needed if this act of constitutional vandalism was to take effect. This elementary schoolboy howler suggested that no one who carried weight in No. 10 really knew or cared much about government.
The abuse of national immigration controls, with Home Office officials effectively being ordered to collude with international criminals and ignore basic checks, is another manifestation of this incompetence at the heart of government. So is the ghastly problem which may well end up destroying Tony Blair: the failure to plan the aftermath of war in Iraq. The Prime Minister is emerging as a serial bungler on an epic scale, and it is increasingly important to understand why. The problem is structural as much as individual. It dates right back to 2 May 1997, when Tony Blair first entered Downing Street.