Up until two months ago, Tony Blair could do no wrong. He was the golden boy of the media, and you would have been hard pressed to find a word said against him in even the most right-wing newspapers. The a previously unknown backbench MP makes a speech and suddenly the honeymoon with the press is well and truly over.
The Guardian and The Independent have chosen now to highlight Roy Hattersley's long standing dispute with the Blair leadership on education. The Independent also decided to break the news of Blair's inability to talk to the press about last year's signal workers' dispute without assistance from Peter Mandelson. The Guardian has suddenly discovered the worrying news that "New Labour's" policies are just the same as the SDP's were.
All this, however, is at one remove from real politics. Neither the Guardian nor the Independent were reporting on real conflict inside the PLP. Even taking into consideration the muttering from Bill Morris and John Edmonds, the possibility that any of Blair's "critics" will lead a revolt against the direction he is taking the party remains remote to say the least. Bill Morris has even gone so far as to rule out taking any action if a Labour government sets a minimum wage much lower that the £4.15 target the TGWU is committed to, and Richard Burden the MP whose article sparked the latest round of 'crisis' stories, tried desperately to get the New Statesman to pull it, when he realised the impact it was going to have.
What it perhaps does signify is a slight predicament for the sort of well-meaning liberals that the Guardian attempts to cater for.
The Guardian reveals all too clearly their dilemma, "What is need to rally the doubtful is a passionate speach from Mr Blair on poverty with some specific pledges on what he'd do to reduce inequality. No opposition should make too many specific pledges but Labour's reluctance to reverse anything the Tories doÉ is absurd." (Editorial, August 14th). It is clear that the Guardian at least is desperate to maintain its adoring position, but, in the absence of very news is more than hungry for a hook - in the shape of a policy, almost any policy - to hang its support on.
The only thing that Blair has done in the way of newsworthiness over the summer has been to jet off to Australia (cancelling his commitment fo open MSF's new headquarters in order to do so) at the behest of Rupert Murdoch.
The real story, and one which you can bet the Guardian will be quick to play down, it the battle Blair is going to face at the upcoming Party conference. On both education and the minimum wage, Blair is facing serious opposition from all corners of the party. The Grant Maintained schools debacle is coming back to haunt him, with over 20 resolution demanding the return of all GM schools to local authority control. And the minimum wage is shaping up to be the debate that will polarise opinion at the conference. 19 resolutions call for the Party to accept the formula agreed at successive TUCs of half male median earnings (£4.15 per hour) which Tony Blair has already rejected on the Party's behalf.
At the same time, attempts to get rid of union sponsorship of MPs have already come under fire not only from "left" unions but also from the AEEU. But pressure is also continuing from the right to increase the pace of "modernisation". The LCC, not content with puching for representation for Labour Councillors on the NEC, has increased the profile of its campaign to abolish Constituency General Committees.
Given the poor stage management of the closure of Walsall District Party, Frank Dobson will no doubt be glad to relinquish his responsibility for the Party's summer profile. On their return, however, Mandelson and Blair will have to face a more serious task than dealing with Brian Mahwinney's press stunts. For all the stories of the past few weeks, the media are unlikely to slip the leash just yet, although the closer we get to a General Election, the more difficult it will be for Mandelson to spin things his way.
The left, who have been hidden during most of the summer, now have a chance to turn the discussions inside the Party back onto our strong suit of policy. We chave a chance to turn the discussions inside the Party back onto our strong suit of policy. We can, if we use the opportunity, turn the Guardian's desperate pleading for policy, to our advantage. Into the Blair-manufactured vacuum we should seek to inject a manifesto built around the issues on which we can win majorities at this year's conference: education, jobs, welfare and the minimum wage.
Against the non-event of a summertime assault by unknown backbenchers and bored journalists, silence has bee a reasonable defence for the Party machine. But against a serious attempt to build momentum for socialist politics, Blair may yet find that the Guardian block vote cannot deliver every time.