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The Blair-Brown effect

Brian Taylor | 11:14 UK time, Wednesday, 1 September 2010

David Cairns MP, we salute you. That was a noble performance on the wireless this morning, discussing Tony Blair's memoirs.

According to Mr Cairns, the real interest in the Blair apologia should lie in his prescription for the future of the Labour Party. Aye, as they would say in Mr Cairns constituency, right.

Of course, the thoughtful Mr Cairns knows perfectly well that the Blair memoirs carry weight in direct proportion to their analysis of the author's own past years in government; not future political prospects.

In particular, they are fascinating in their confirmation - if one were needed - that relations were less than cordial between Blair and Brown. The former Chancellor, according to the former PM, could be "maddening".

Right back at you, G Brown might say in his own forthcoming book. Or perhaps not. The word from some is that the Brown tome is an intense dissertation on the economic crisis and his part in tackling it.

Then we have the Third Man, Lord Mandelson. I was in the audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival as he gently dissected those who had exasperated him down the years. Diverting from the true New Labour path, he said, would be to enter a cul de sac.

The best question came right at the end from an audience member who asked him to define the adjective "Mandelsonian". Subtle, he essayed, before adding a few other epithets and ending with "loyal". Loyal, one wondered, to whom.

Two further elements from the Mandelson performance. One, he offered a robust defence of his party's performance in government, citing key policy issues.

Two, he suggested that previous governments - post-war Attlee, Wilson, Major - had similarly featured clashes in personality at the very top.

That is undoubtedly true. But were those contests not largely about policy or raw power? There appears to be an added psychological tension in the emerging stories about the Blair/Brown period.

Does any of this have a continuing impact, other than to market rival books? I believe it does. It has a potential impact upon Labour's performance and upon the leadership contest.

Peter Mandelson, in particular, is inviting the contenders to define themselves at least partly in relation to what has gone before, to the Blairite agenda which, he notes, won three elections.

They have to choose whether to take up that invitation - or whether to seek to shape a new narrative of their own.

Either way, I suspect the contenders and the party in Scotland, facing elections next year, would welcome a pause in these exercises in exculpation. Nae luck, as they might also say down David Cairns' way.


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