Politics - Mark Seddon learns of "stalking horses" against Blair

At least 59 Labour MPs are prepared to push for a leadership election, and two "stalking horses" are

Having spent the best part of a decade slating Tony Blair and his vacuous creation, new Labour, for taking the politics out of politics, I am beginning to wonder whether it might be time to direct some fire towards some of my colleagues in the media. It takes two to tango, and the dumbing down of political coverage is just as much the fault of Blair's camp-followers in the fourth estate as it is of the dreary breed of management-consultant types who litter the back benches. Between them, they have conspired to bore and infuriate in equal measure. No wonder the public is utterly cheesed off.

The past week or so was no exception. On 20 July, for the first time in ages, the Press Gallery in the House of Commons was bursting at the seams. Yet as soon as the first lawyer, Blair, had worsted the second lawyer, Michael Howard, the press pen evacuated - straight into the arms of the Prime Minister's official spokesman in the corridor. Charles Kennedy was left staring at empty seats.

For much of the media there were only three points worth reporting: that Blair had escaped yet again from his "worst week on record", that his leadership was safe from Brownite predations, and that Howard had fluffed it.

The editors' endless and deeply superficial Blair/Brown fodder is even worse. Wandering around Portcullis House, I learned that a group of Labour MPs had pulled together the names of 59 colleagues prepared to push for a leadership election, and that earnest efforts were being made to canvass at least two "stalking horses" to take Blair on. In opposition, 80 names are needed before a leadership election can be called - but even in government, if Blair were to learn that he didn't have the confidence of a substantial section of the parliamentary party, it might be enough to get those tectonic plates moving apace. Of this group, most would settle for Gordon Brown - but with conditions, such as an end to the Chancellor's fixation with deregulation and privatisation; while a smaller group was for "anyone but Brown". There was also talk of pushing for a special conference - similar to that called to perform the last rites on Labour's old Clause Four - to decide the fate of the leader.

The trade union concordat with ministers during Labour's National Policy Forum in Warwick on 24-25 July has put paid to all talk of regime change before the general election. But it is as well that Blair knows that at least a quarter of the parliamentary party, a very large proportion of trade unionists and a slab of Labour's much-diminished membership now view him as a liability.

They fear that when he does finally go, there may be little of the Labour Party left on the ground for anyone else to revive. That Labour is facing its most serious identity crisis since 1931 or 1975, according to the veteran commentator Geoffrey Goodman, might warrant closer examination. But our deeply non-political newspaper editors of the liberal, leftish persuasion remain uninterested.

Mention of the names "Peter" and "Mandelson", however, is guaranteed to quicken the collective pulse, hence the deluge of paper devoted to Peter's "agonising over Brussels" and Tony's "tough decision". There was precious little examination of Mandelson's proposed role in Europe - to champion flexible labour markets, welfare "reform" and the rest of the free-market paraphernalia borrowed from Harvard Business School that is bound to infuriate social-democratic Europe. Still less that, as a result of Mandelson's agonising, his resignation of his seat took place in the recess, so that the Hartlepool by-election cannot take place until the autumn. Had he gone while parliament was still sitting, party bosses could have called the poll as planned for 12 August. Now the perma-tanned Robert Kilroy-Silk has at least two months to plug his ugly populism, and the Liberal Democrats can look forward to weeks of happy leafleting.

Meanwhile, my friend the film-maker Sean Langan is back from Baghdad. When he went, he was told by a succession of television executives "not to bother", because "the war is over". He came back with some of the first interviews with Iraqi fighters in Fallujah. Months before we learned of what had been going on in Abu Ghraib prison, Sean had got the story from people on the street. He acknowledges that he made an elementary mistake - had he enlisted David Beckham to ask soul-searching questions of bombed-out Iraqis, his documentary would have been all over our screens. As it is, his film has come from his own pocket. Just as our narrow view of politics is defined by Andrew Marr standing in front of No 10, so our view of Iraq is all too often left to correspondents dressed in flak jackets standing in front of the al-Rasheed Hotel. We are all merely spectators now.

John Kampfner is on holiday

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