Blair's loyal friends

Irwin Stelzer joins Berlusconi and backs Blair as EU president

For the sake of his (admittedly tenuous) relationship with the left, Tony Blair must hope that a man is not judged by his friends. After Silvio Berlusconi backed Blair to become the first president of Europe, Rupert Murdoch's intellectual guru, Irwin Stelzer, today adds his support to the campaign.

Stelzer's endorsement of Blair in the Guardian is likely to prompt cries of "Betrayal!" from Bill Cash et al. He writes:

I yield to no one in my dislike of the unaccountable, kleptocratic bureaucracy and its appropriation to itself of the prerogatives of parliament. But you lost that fight when your prime minister reneged on his promise of a referendum and signed the constitution -- er, treaty. The EU's interest, which is what the role is all about now, is clearly in appointing (elections are not the thing in the EU) a famous, dynamic leader who can give it instant credibility on the world stage.

Stelzer does not touch on the Eurosceptics' nightmare: that David Cameron will be left in office but not in power as Blair's EU acquires ever more authority. But he does offer his own take on Labour's internal strife.

In something of an overture to James Purnell and David Miliband, Stelzer remarks of Blair:

He did make voters realise that they should be in charge, achieve at least some reforms, and create a dialogue that will make others possible once the Brown regime passes into opposition and Blairites regain control of the Labour Party.

Yet there's no chance of that happening while the trade unions retain a third of the votes in Labour's electoral college. In a typical display of eloquence, Derek Simpson, the joint head of Unite, recently branded Purnell, Miliband and Peter Mandelson "thick" and "Tories".

Far more likely is that the centre-left "dream ticket" of Harriet Harman and Jon Cruddas will be elected, backed by the Compass wing of the party.

The Blairites had better hope that their man makes it to Brussels.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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