If you were Tony Blair and you wanted to quieten down a frenzied Labour Party without saying anything directly about your future yourself, what would you do? Answer: the usual Number Ten trick - leak an email. The Mirror's story today carries all the hallmarks of being deliberately leaked by Number Ten on the basis that most reasonable thinking people would consider it right and proper for the PM to quit on his tenth anniversary. We'll see if the strategy works. I have my doubts and believe it could backfire spectatularly and stoke up the fire even more. (Imagine I am figuratively rubbing my hands with glee as I type this - a feat in itself). For those of you who can't bring yourselves to part with 40p (or whatever it costs) to buy today's Mirror, I have pleasure in reprinting Kevin Maguire's (pictured) article now...
A SENSATIONAL memo leaked to the Mirror reveals how Labour experts are planning Tony Blair's exit from No10.The retirement blueprint aims to promote the "triumph of Blairism" and allow the PM to quit on a wave of euphoria after 10 years in office.The secret strategy – drawn up by a small group of loyalists – is well under way. Mr Blair's "farewell tour" includes plans to appear on Blue Peter, Songs of Praise and Chris Evans' radio show.
TONY Blair hopes to quit Number 10 with all guns blazing, leaving the public drooling over what he has achieved as a Prime Minister that changed the face of politics in his 10-year reign.The secret blueprint that sensationally outlines his exit plan reveals proposals for a whirlwind of TV and radio appearances, city visits and photo opportunities with families and workers while travelling the land on different forms of transport.His most trusted aides are determined Mr Blair should go out on a wave of euphoria and renewed popularity after his recent batterings over issues such as Iraq and ID cards.And the five-page memo, drawn up by a close-knit group around the leader including party guru Philip Gould, suggests the PM is nearer to stepping down than he publicly admits.It warns: "Time is not an unlimited commodity." And seemingly more concerned with his image than policy, the paper – seen by the Mirror – boasts: "His genuine legacy is not the delivery, important though that is, but the dominance of new Labour ideas…the triumph of Blairism."As TB enters his final phase he needs to be focusing way beyond the finishing line, not looking at it."He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won't even play that last encore.
In moving towards the end he must focus on the future."The plan to promote Mr Blair as a PM the public will be sad to see the back of is bound to anger Gordon Brown, favourite to succeed him, and the document accepts the pair's strained relationship could deteriorate further.The possible reactions of the Chancellor, who fears the longer Mr Blair stays the stronger the Tories will become, are prepared for under a section labelled "threats and opportunities".It warns: "There are specific issues which can provide opportunities and threats. They are: GB's reaction…the more successful we are the more it will agitate and possibly destabilise him, we need to consider how to deal."It is said Mr Blair will appear on Blue Peter and negotiations are believed to under way for him to go on Songs of Praise. The memo also says invitations are being sought to appear on Chris Evans' Radio 2 slot plus half a dozen other popular programmes.
Other revelations include:- spending a day then an overnight stay in half a dozen cities across the country.- visiting the 20 most striking buildings opened or redeveloped since 1997.- increasing the number of high-profile tours of schools and hospitals.- avoiding discussing Blair's job offers – fuelling rumours he's already received approaches.The memo also suggests the PM travels to Wales and Scotland to argue devolution is a success ahead of next spring's elections, gives set piece interviews once a month to foreign newspapers to boost his international standing and proposes "careful" handling how he also quits as MP for Sedgefield in County Durham.
The extraordinary memo will heighten speculation Mr Blair is already on his last lap and is privately preparing to depart some time around May next year when he celebrates 10 years in power.He last week failed to end speculation over his retirement date when he ruled out naming the day at Labour's annual conference in Manchester later this month.He pointedly accused Cabinet Ministers and Labour MPs, led by Mr Brown, of "obsessing" over the timing. Yet the No 10 memo reveals how the issue is dominating thinking deep inside the Downing Street bunker.Iraq also continues to cast a long shadow over the Premier's record, the document openly acknowledges. It says: "We need to incorporate this into our media plan. It's the elephant in the room, let's face up to it. Most importantly, are we up for it? Is TB up for it?"Mr Blair's final weeks in office will be particularly carefully choreographed to ensure cheers rather than jeers.
Under the heading "Last month" the memo suggests: "Needs a daily grid, planned to thelast detail.As much as possible a farewell tour, looking to the future, making sure the party is in the right place and the public remember him as he should be."The strategy is already under way as the PM embarks on a reputation-enhancing series of lectures.Mr Blair wants to be seen on TV in more "real-life situations" with people instead of politicians and is to focus on areas such as technology, genetics and family relationships.
The memo says: "He needs to embrace open spaces, the arts and businesses, he needs to be seen to be travelling on different forms of transport."He needs to be seen with people who will raise eyebrows."He needs to travel around the UK to be carefully positioned as someone who while not above politics, is certainly distancing himself from the political village. He should be dropping references in all that he does which reflect his energy and enthusiasm."This needs to move on from 'I'm getting on with the job' to 'this is a great job, I'm very lucky, I won't have it one day and before that day comes I still have lots to do and say'."Among the Downing Street aides involved with the document are Ruth Turner, David Hill, Liz Lloyd, John McTernan and spin doctorDavid Hill.Parts that have been already been implemented include an outing on Radio 5's 606 football fanzine to talk about England's World Cup prospects with presenter Adrian Chiles.
The document, headed "Reconnecting with the public – a new relationship with the media", was prepared earlier this year.It is thought it was produced around the time of Labour's "Black Wednesday" when Mr Blair was rocked by a series of scandals and events that seriously weakened his position.The conflagration of Deputy PM John Prescott's affair, a row over the release of foreign prisoners and nurses booing Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt shook No 10's foundations.It shows Mr Blair and his aides want him to keep his hand on the tiller until the moment he leaves his job at No10.Sketching out the his exit it says: "One where we make it clear that the PM will be spending his final period in office preparing Britain for itsfuture challenges, setting out what they are and connecting with the public who gave him the chance to serve."
The document also calls on aides to make it clear how much they have enjoyed working with Mr Blair. It wants him to be seen in "iconic locations" and away from the "traditional backdrops of public buildings and lecterns".It says: "In seeking to achieve this the whole operation should reflect the change in the political atmosphere: TB focusing on his priorities; TB laying the foundations for the future based on his experience in office."This positive approach needs to be reflected not only by TB but by all those who work and support him.We should show how much we enjoy working for TB, what pride we take in our work and how we want his premiership to end on a high."Mr Blair intends to present himself as above the political fray, both within the Labour Party and against enemies.
The memo reads: "While we need to do what is required to defend the Government and ensure a clarity of message, we should definitely not be drawn into hand to hand combat.But if some of our own side are not prepared to accept this, and the Tories step up their attacks then we will have to revisit…but this whole approach has been adopted to avoid that, so we should work on the basis that we will have achieved this."As ever, this is not rocket science, we know what works well: strong, policy focused events which have substance, striking pictures, words from TB and real people involved."But it is essential that we do all we can in our message and planning to ensure that we do not get knocked off by events."Before the summer Mr Blair delivered a keynote speech on criminal justice followed by a second lecture on public health.Yesterday he delivered the third in the series on social exclusion as one of the "big challenges" facing Britain in the future.Labour MPs are increasingly predicting disastrous results in Welsh and Scottish Parliamentary elections next May. This has led growing numbers of backbenchers to call on the PM to make his departure date clear way before those elections.But the memo says: "Wales and Scotland – devolution despite the bumpy ride has been a success, TB should embrace this."His profile should be raised in the major urban areas in advance of the elections in May."