Tuesday, September 26, 2006

John Reid, Under The Radar

I wonder if this party conference is being set up to provide John Reid with the platform for a run at the leadership. It's well-known that Michael Howard dictated the terms of the Tory leadership election deliberately to prevent David Davis from taking the leadership. Some of the comparisons between Howard and Blair are striking.

According to Conservative Home, Davis had been circulating a petition to force a vote of confidence in Howard's leadership, which is what precipitated Howard's decision to resign, but only after a protracted period to allow potential challengers to emerge to the seemingly inevitable coronation of Davis. Notice the similarities between Blair's announcement he'd stay on for a year after Brown tried, cack-handedly, to launch a putsch?

Now, Reid, apparently, doesn't want to become Prime Minister. That's what the political journos on Newsnight were saying. But I'm not so sure. His handling of the airline terror threat seemed designed purely to win himself headlines at a time when the people who normally steal the limelight, Messrs Blair and Brown, were away. And by talking tough on terror, he's quite clearly presenting himself as a man who can be trusted with national security.

Why, then, would he want to pretend he doesn't want the top job? Well, for starters, unless he's sure he can win, then he wouldn't want to risk his comfortable position as Home Secretary by pissing off Brown in forcing a contest. Reid is one of the ex-Marxists in the Party who seem motivated more by hanging on to power than acting in the interests of any particular principles, and he wouldn't want to jepoardise his job unnecessarily.

Moreover, I'm sure one of the reasons Brown is taking a hammering in the polls right now is that he so obviously is desperate to move into Number 10. That never plays well with the voters. Sure, he's on a charm offensive, trying to show his human side, trying to set out his firm belief in his Presbyterian ethic. But at the end of the day, we know that he wants the keys to the Cabinet room, he wants to get there as soon as possible, and he probably wants to get there without a fight. Blair's popularity dropped when he became seen as grasping for power, and that his "whiter-than-white" schtick was nothing more than a veil. Brown doesn't have the advantage of being seen as a man of principle to start off with - although this may actually be unfair.

Reid has now got the benefit of a glowing report from Frank Luntz behind him - the same pollster who worked wonders for David Cameron just before the Tory Party Conference last year. And I notice from the speaking order posted at Guido's blog that Reid has effectively been given the last day of the conference for his own speech (let's face it, Jowell, Hain and Prescott are laughing stocks). The other leading potential rivals to Brown, David Miliband and Alan Johnson, not only speak on the same day as each other, but also will be overshadowed by the presence of Bill Clinton (Blair: "hey, look, I get on with nice Americans too!"). Reid is given a free run of the press coverage, in a similar way to the Tory candidates last year each getting their own day for their own speech.

Reid, therefore, has a chance to boost his own profile this week whilst not being part of the personality maelstrom that can only attract negative publicity. All the while, he's professing to be the tough nut whose ambitions go no further than sorting out the Home Office (and, a cynic might say, removing any remaining civil liberties in the process). This sounds to me like he's preparing an under-the-radar campaign in cahoots with Blair - to emerge as a standing candidate only when he's seen as the saviour to save Labour from Brown, who isn't the leader the old guard had hoped for. Whether it will work is a different matter. But the parallels between Howard screwing Davis, and Blair's rift with Brown seem to be quite noticeable here.