Blair's double escape act extravaganza

It was a week in which the British Prime Minister was destined to leave the comfort of Downing Street; but his opponents have been left sorely disappointed.

The week started for Tony Blair in a world of worry. He had spoken to his backbenchers about the divide over university top-up fees, but how would they vote when push came to shove?
And could he trust Lord Hutton - overseer of the investigation into the death of government scientist Dr David Kelly - to be the peer who could be relied upon to be independent, even favourable?

In both cases the answer has been positive. But maybe not as positive as Mr Blair would have wanted.

On the issue of tuition fees, while it may have passed its second reading in the House of Commons with a slender majority of five, it is far from over?

With Charles Clarke, the education secretary, desperately trying to persuade the country that top-up fees would benefit students in the long-run, it remains to be seen exactly how.

The nature of the fees is that students from working-class families are excluded from having to pay them. Those who do don’t have to settle up until their education is completed.

But graduates face exactly the same job prospects on leaving their education, so why shouldn’t working-class families have to pay on completing their degrees like everyone else?

Conservative Labour

Labour is not seeking to redress the class barrier with its logic over fees. They are conservative at heart, more so than the Conservatives themselves.

Labour must be seen to be doing the right thing for the working class, which is, allegedly, Labour's main electorate.

The middle classes are left devastated by such tactics. Understandably, they are angry they are being ignored, again, and the backbenchers are all too aware of this.

Thus, Tuesday saw one of the biggest backbench revolts in this government’s history.

But what of the students themselves?

The very reason given for the introduction of top-up fees is to allow for the government's expansion of universities to receive 50 per cent of A-level leavers.

The question of what value a degree actually holds for college leavers these days is by-the-by.

While those who don’t have a degree (16-18 year old leavers) will be put out of a job by those who do, the graduates themselves will be forced to work in lower-requirement jobs just to meet their fee repayments because there won't be enough graduate-level jobs to support the sheer number of them.

The National Union of Student's president, Mandy Telford, is against top-up fees and remains objective in her arguments against them at the same time.

She is the only person who can really speak for the people that will have to come through this system, and if she’s against it, there must be a good reason, no two-ways about it.

She has nothing to gain from opposing government if the issue benefits the NUS and those it represents: the doctors and high-fliers of tomorrow, destined to be country’s rulers.

So we return to the issue of the country’s rulers, and to the principle issue in hand, Mr Blair’s bouncing back… again.

But is this the last time he can do it? The figures say "yes".

Recent polls have shown, for the first time, that the Conservatives are matching the Labour share.


Hutton let-off?

The Hutton Report exonerated the government while slamming the BBC. But many are unsure of both its relevance in relation to the original questions over going to war against Iraq and its validity.

The issue was never "Tony Blair vs. the BBC", it was David Kelly’s death, what led to it, and what caused it.

And in 740 pages it still remains a largely unanswered question. Sceptics are calling it a lengthy article about the BBC being in the wrong.

Many agree the BBC's editorial process did go wrong, including the former-BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies and former-Director General Greg Dyke, who both resigned amidst the storm that blew up following its publication.

Hutton's findings have similarly been called a whitewash by others - an excuse to broaden the government's control over the media.

If this is the case and the government is allowed to supervise and amend the media’s newsgathering and reporting techniques, it is only a matter of time before it ceases to be our fourth estate.

The validity of Lord Hutton's report is also being questioned.

In the days before his appointment, Downing Street was said to be searching for a law lord they could trust to be "relied upon to be independent".

A peer who could be relied upon (presumably to exonerate or maybe be objective), whilst being independent (without any obvious government hand-holding) was found in Lord Hutton.

But the evidence presented to him is in now question and many are wondering whether the Lord saw everything he should.


The conclusion, at least until these questions are answered or otherwise swept under the carpet, is that Tony Blair remains in Number 10.

But a general election is expected in a little over a year’s time, and with his party in turmoil, split over manifestos, wars, and even its own ideology, there is a strong case to suggest he is on borrowed time.