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Columnist Weighs in on Blair's Woes

SIEGEL: Matthew Parris who's a former conservative member of parliament writes about politics for the British daily 'The Times'. Mr. Paris in an election just a year ago Labour won a parliamentary majority handily with Tony Blair at the helm so he was returned as Prime Minster, what's so different now?

MATTHEW PARRIS: The big thing that's gone wrong is public trust and the trust of his own colleagues in Tony Blair personally has reached an all time low and this has been combined with a series of accidents and stumbles in domestic policy, the Iraq war seeming to go from bad to worse and the increasing impatience of the Prime Minister's chosen successor, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Minster of Finance if you like. His increasing impatience to take over from Tony Blair.

Tony Blair has promised him that he will have his support for the leadership but will not say when he's going to go.

SIEGEL: Yes, you should explain that the Prime Minister can, in fact, vacate his office and without an election actually hand over the reigns of power to another member of his cabinet, in this case Gordon Brown.

PARRIS: Yes, we have a rather extraordinary unwritten constitution in which the monarch simply invites whoever is capable of commanding a majority in the House of Commons to be Prime Minister, to form a government. The long and the short of that is that if Tony Blair goes and if the Labour Party are happy to have Gordon Brown as his successor then Gordon Brown will be the new Prime Minister and there is not need for another general election.

SIEGEL: He is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the equivalent of our Treasury Secretary roughly, you have written of him beneath the apparent incoherence lurks the real incoherence, a political philosophy like an unmade bed. What do you mean about Gordon Brown?

PARRIS: He is a deeply intelligent, rather wellread, thoughtful, studious man, but he's got away with a reputation for being a thinker without ever really producing a product. Product of thought that could be translated into a coherent political philosophy.

He doesn't speak well. He tends to gabble and I have a feeling that this Gordon Brown premiership towards which we're heading is a bit like one of those marriages between two people who realize after the invitations have gone out and the guests have been invited that maybe it wasn't a good idea to get married after all.

The Labour Party are moving with a kind of grim inevitability towards a leader whom they are not sure will command a majority at the next general election.

SIEGEL: Let's assume they don't, what's the situation in the opposition in Britain?

PARRIS: Well the opposition led by the new conservative leader David Cameron are looking increasingly smart, increasingly perky, increasingly media wise and increasingly confident, but they start the race a long way behind and most people think that even though they might get more seats in the next legislature than they have in this, they wouldn't get enough to form a majority government. So we are looking at the possibility of a coalition between David Cameron's Conservatives and the liberal Democrats, our third party.

David Cameron's job has been to drag the Conservative Party from its 20th Century past which is immersed in heroic memories of Margaret Thatcher into the 21st Century, a very different kind of Britain, and as a young man he's been dong that quite effectively talking about green issues, talking about getting more women candidates. All the kinds of things that a right of center party needs to make clear it understands in the modern world.

SIEGEL: British political writers used to look at our political parties in America and find between the Democrats and Republicans a distinction without a difference. When we look at the Conservatives and Labour in Britain today is it clear to everybody exactly what the big difference is?

PARRIS: No, it isn't and I think you put your finger on the big teasing question at the center of British politics, just as Tony Blair moved his party a long way towards the legacy of Margaret Thatcher so David Cameron is now trying to move his party towards Tony Blair and you can't get a cigarette paper between them sometimes.

SIEGEL: Matthew Parris thank you very much for talking with us.

PARRIS: Pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Mathew Paris, political columnist for 'The Times' in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.