Surprises ahead?

My colleague, William Keegan, thinks that Tony Blair may be preparing to spring a surprise. He reports that a close associate of the Prime Minister has told friends that he is concerned about his own future because Blair could be gone ‘in a fortnight’.

When people who know the Prime Minister’s mind begin to panic about their future, there must be at least a chance that Blair is thinking of bowing out at the Labour Party conference in Manchester next week. It would be a dramatic thing to do, and, with recordings of Laurence Olivier in John Osborne’s The Entertainer now on general release, he might learn a few extra tricks from that master of final appearances. Suddenly there could even be sympathy for him. It would surely be preferable to dragging out the agony for a further nine months of pregnant expectation. In effect he could be emulating Denis Healey’s apocryphal speechwriter who, according to that formidable ex-Chancellor, once left his minister in the lurch: when the latter turned to page four of his speech, all he found were the words: ‘From now on you’re on your own, you bugger.’

In Blair’s position I should certainly want to leave the stage as fast as possible and let the rest of them sort it out. Recent events in the Labour Party are worthy of Honore de Balzac, specifically the passage in Cousin Bette where we are told: ‘Complaint, long repressed, was on the point of breaking the frail envelope of discretion.

‘Oh, that frail envelope!