The Labour party is uneasy. For 11 years it has made the political weather. It has set the terms of debate; its intellectual totalitarianism has almost succeeded in branding any non-New Labour position as illegitimate. Now, everything has changed. On the underground, in pubs, people are talking about David Cameron. Though he has hardly done or said anything yet, he has reintroduced excitement to British politics. Some shrewd Labour analysts fear that events have escaped from their control and are not sure how to recapture them.
Mr Cameron has been lucky in his timing. He arrived at the moment when a lot of voters were falling out of love with Tony Blair. The simperings, the facile little tricks of speech — the minor faults of character — all the traits which used to arouse affection and a protective instinct now merely exasperate and set teeth on edge. Once that happens, the relationship never recovers. Fed up with Mr Blair, bored with politics, a large section of the electorate was, without realising it, already in the market for something new. Believing that they have now found it, they are willing David Cameron to succeed, in a way that a lot of people cheered on Tony Blair after 1994.
Nor is it clear that Labour could divert those cheers to Gordon Brown. Some Labour people argue that a Brown premiership could relaunch a faltering Labour government, just as John Major revived the Tories’ fortunes in 1990. Others are less sure. Like Mr Cameron now, Mr Major had the advantage of being largely unknown, as did Tony Blair in 1994. Mr Brown is hardly unknown. He has been so intimately involved with this administration that it could be impossible for him to persuade the voters to reassess it.
The comparison may be less with John Major than with Anthony Eden.