The long goodbye

So Tony Blair has concluded his last Labour Party conference as Leader and Prime Minister.

I was mulling the question of Prime Ministerial styles today. There is an old debate about whether we have cabinet government of Prime Ministerial government. It will never be resolved. Partly, in my view, because both positions are wrong. We have Parliamentary government. Parliament loans its powers and authorities to a leader or to a cabinet, as Parliament sees fit. It can remove a Prime Minister from office forthwith, if it chooses.

But there have been different styles for different times. Usually, new leaders, both in government and opposition, try to avoid the errors of their predecessors. This means that strong centralising leaders - Churchill, Macmillan, Wilson, and Thatcher - have usually been followed by more consensual types, such as Eden, Douglas-Home, Callaghan and Major. Of these, only Major survived in office for a substantive period. That may be because in reacting to their predecessors' faults they may have overcompensated.

But Blair has been, in many ways, the most centralising PM of all. The number of cabinet meetings has been cut and they have been cut to just an hour. It is reminiscent of the Duke of Wellington's comment that "I gave the cabinet their orders and they wanted to hang around and discuss them". Except that hardly anyone in Blair's cabinet seems to even want to discuss things. Those that do - like Gordon Brown - do so in one to one meetings. Apparently Brown does not even pretend to listen to others in cabinet, preferring to work on his papers any time anyone else is speaking.

So history would suggest that the Labour Party and Parliament would want a more consensual leader to succeed Blair. They certainly won't get that from Gordon Brown. He may successfully present himself as more sincere and as having greater gravitas, but not as being less of a control freak.

Which leaves me wondering if his attempts to control the Party and Parliament will be successful.

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