Alistair Campbell is leaving, but not yet, according to the Beeb. That's just gossip, according to Number 10. Well they would say that... Still, his demeanour on TV has not exactly been ebullient. Johnathan Powell has been hawking his CV. Tony Blair has been defending himself, and no one else. Geoff Hoon has been defending himself, and no one else. Gordon Brown has, well, been conspicuous by his silence. Quietly tapping the ends of fis fingers on each hand together, Money Burns - esque - 'patience, Gordon, climb the ladder'. The old seaman's adage - one hand for the ship, and one hand for yourself - seems alltogether apt. It appears that the first exit wave of the New Labout project is about to begin.
The article in the Guardian on Thursday on 'President Blair' (a tired title, but, I guess, appropriate) was intriguing in that it pointed somewhat tongue in cheek to the presidency of the European Union envisaged by the new constitution. Projected back onto Blair's reticence to go to the people on the EU constitution, the more conspiratorially minded would smile. His insistence ona doffed cap to Europe through his address to the joint houses in Washington kept one foot in Brussels, though perhaps not firmly. It appears that he is a generation too late for the proposed legislation in the US that permits citizens of twenty years or more to stand for the real presidency. Arnie's taking notes.
Blair's positioning seems perfect to marry Old and New Europe, as described in the Powell (Colin, not Johnathan) lexicon. Pro US, which is essential, but maintaining a cultural identity that is important. Pro economy, and in favour of the free market in a socialist kind of way. A fluent French speaker, but English is the native tongue. Even if he still uses the phrase 'kind of' too often when it should be replaced with the American 'like'.
But the real question is where does this exit take New Labour, and indeed Old Europe? With New Labour, the Clintonite economic focus was always driven by Brown, and, assuming that he takes over the reins, that will stay. The unions have never been more distant from their political pater, and while threats to re-align (with whom, I ask?) may vex the party administrators, cringing at falling membership numbers, the truth of the matter is that in a media dominated world, more discreet messaging is imparted through the TV than in the local community center. New labour's image will most probably not change, but the brand is undergoing a fundamental shift, becoming a vehicle for the trans-national corporate driven ideologs rather than a family, as Neil Kinnock once described it. It becomes, in essence, the power machine, reacting to voter unease and concern rather than leading, as politicians should. It would be unfair to say that Blair has not led - he has - but it is leading politics rather than the people into a different climate, a different place.
Old Europe will see, and is seeing, that it needs to be there too, or risk being sidelined. The bitterness that is associated with cowing to the might of the US will be hard to get over on a personal basis for many of Europe's older politicians, but should be seen as pragmatism, as Blair does. The US rules the world, and societiey that toe the line (as with the Sunni Moslems in Iraq) will be the chosen ones. All hail Bush.