The Labour Campaign
2006-12-18T16:30:18Z (GMT) by
Labour’s second term in office was very different to its first. Tony Blair and his government suffered a considerable though not fatal loss of authority following intense policy debates over health, education and, most spectacularly, Iraq. The decision to support the US led invasion stymied the development of the kind of permanent campaign Labour had effectively run in the first term because, despite Blair’s protestations for the need to ‘move on’, the issue continued to command attention because of the controversies over the Prime Minister’s relationship with President Bush, the illusory weapons of mass destruction that had been used to justify Britain’s military involvement, the death of scientific adviser David Kelly and the subsequent inquiries into his demise and the government’s overall conduct. Cumulatively these matters undermined public trust in Blair and foreshadowed his unprecedented announcement in 2004 that his third term would be his last. The Prime Minister responded to his subsequent victory by claiming that he had ‘listened and learned’ yet it is difficult to envisage this will begin with meaningful consultations involving a Labour party that has long been subordinate to government decree and dominated by three interdependent sets of actors. i First and foremost a group of powerful, mainly unelected advisers surrounding Blair has effectively displaced key functions previously undertaken by the Cabinet, its Committees, ministers, the parliamentary party, the Annual Conference, the National Executive Committee, and the Policy Forum. Secondly, favoured media and think tanks have provided an important conduit enabling the Blair leadership to explore plans by ‘spinning’ them to journalists in a way that they would have been reluctant to do in a more formal public setting. Finally the views of the public have been constantly monitored through polling and focus group studies of those voters whose support has been deemed critical to the government’s survival. Together these actors have been critical to the formation of Labour policy and its promotion, as the party attempted to win a third historic term in office.