Britain continues to swing to the right…

Like much of what passes for substance in Northern Irish politics most of what is written about the tensions between Blair and Brown is purely for the optics. Deciphering what’s genuine from what is intended to distract is difficult since large swathes of the British press is consumed by drama rather than slicing down to reality. Yet Philip Stevens hits the mark when he takes a second look at recent history. As I indicated on a recent Guardian blog, current circumstance may conceal more dangers for Labour’s deputy than the current ‘boss’:

The feuding seems to have blinded Mr Brown to the bigger political reality. The New Labour coalition � the joint construction of prime minister and chancellor � is crumbling. The advance of David Cameron�s Conservatives in the local elections came in those areas � predominantly London and the south-east � in to which New Labour marched during the 1990s. The government is losing Middle England.

This has been Mr Blair�s territory. Deposing him transmits a message that Labour is moving leftwards. Mr Brown challenges this, arguing that his own New Labour credentials are strong. But politicians are known by the company they keep. The coalition the chancellor leads in opposition to Mr Blair is rooted in Old Labour.

The Conservatives made precisely the same mistake during the 1990s. When the party began to lose broad electoral support it retreated into its strongholds. Opposition became self-sustaining � the more the party listened to its core supporters, the more it ceded the centre ground on which British elections are won and lost. It has taken nine years and the election as party leader of Mr Cameron to break that cycle.

Indeed, as the erudite James Blitz points out, the Tories may well have crossed a Rubicon in the polls last week:

For the first time in more than a decade, the Conservatives are now well ahead of Labour in the polls, looking like a party that can afford to dream of a return to the political palazzo. One poll � Populus in The Times � gave the Conservatives an eight-point lead over Labour. Another � YouGov in The Daily Telegraph � put the Tory lead at six points. Coming on the back of a fine set of local government results for the Conservatives 10 days ago, British politics seems in the throes of a sea-change.

As we know, statistics can always lie. Still he puts his finger on why this turn of events may yet prove significant:

Mr Cameron is too astute to gloat. He knows the Conservative lead has more to do with Labour woes than Tory wiles. Mr Blair has this week been embroiled in a furious row with Gordon Brown � chancellor of the exchequer and prime minister-in- waiting � over when he will quit Number 10. Labour MPs have forced Mr Blair into a position where he is now almost certain to quit next summer. This internecine warfare has damaged Labour in the eyes of the voters.

Mr Cameron also knows the Conservatives� poll lead could be whittled down. The best of the polls put them on 38 per cent of the vote this week. Yet three years before its 1997 victory, Mr Blair�s Labour party was up in the mid-40s. �The public thinks the Tories have a leader who is personable, bright, interesting, modern, charismatic,� says Andrew Cooper, director of Populus. �But they want to see more of him before coming to firmer judgments.�

Local game plans based on the continuance of a Labour government in Britain may be as ill fated as those that relied on Gore taking over from Gore in 2000.

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