By Prince Middleton
If you add up the majorities won by Labour in Tony Blair’s three general election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005, the combined total comes to 410.
Theresa May’s one election as Conservative leader saw the Tories fall eight seats short of a majority, having won a majority of 12 under David Cameron in 2015.So in pure electoral terms, Tony Blair is a winner – right up there with Labour giants Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson – and Theresa May is a loser, likely to go down in history as one of the Tories’ least successful leaders.Sponsored link Top 10 Free Most Trusted Antivirus For 2019 The Top 10 Best Providers.
But the comparison between these two very different party leaders doesn’t end there. Even his detractors admit he’s a class act. Even her admirers admit she lacks charisma.
As well as being a winner, Mr Blair has always been a showman. Despite her Abba dance at the Tory conference, the same cannot be said of Mrs May.
Mr Blair is the actor-politician in the mould of his great friend Bill Clinton. She is the down-to-earth, unflashy, workaholic who famously sneered at more extrovert politicians: “Politics is not a game.”
He had brilliant – although flawed – communicators like Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell working for him. She often struggles to communicate and has been cruelly called “the Maybot” for her wooden public performances.
For all that, Mrs May has one big advantage over Mr Blair. No matter how badly Brexit turns out, she will never become as reviled in her own party after leaving office as Mr Blair has been because of the Iraq war.
And while Donald Trump may have held her hand at the White House, it’s difficult to imagine the cautious Mrs May allowing herself and the UK to be dragged into a horrendous war by the US president.F
The two hard-hitting statements attacking each other issued by the prime ministers past and present this weekend reveal just how much they dislike each other.
The vitriol in the prime minister’s statement attacking her Labour predecessor over his campaign for a “People’s Vote” reveals a disdain for him and his style of politics.
She accused him of being “an insult to the office he once held and the people he once served”. Strong stuff. Normally prime ministers and former PMs are polite and respectful towards each other.
Mrs May’s attack also reveals how rattled she is becoming as her Brexit nightmare gets worse and worse. Ever since her clash with jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, she has had a face like thunder.
He seemed somewhat stung by the ferocity of her attack, saying he sympathised with her heavy burden and did not disrespect her. “I understand her frustration,” he said. Patronising? Perhaps.
She’s the vicar’s daughter who went to a state school. He’s the former Durham Cathedral chorister who went on to Fettes public school in Edinburgh and later married the step-daughter of the Coronation Street legend Pat Phoenix.
In their early careers there were some similarities. Both made their name in opposition with a number of front bench posts. Both were not afraid to challenge their party to modernise.
Tony Blair’s first front bench job was a junior Treasury spokesman. At the time, I wrote that he was Labour’s youngest front bencher since David Owen. He didn’t like that, since Dr Owen had defected to the SDP.
But then, in a key move, he became shadow employment secretary, with a brief to sort out Labour’s policy on trade unions. Later he became shadow home secretary, from which he won the Labour leadership when John Smith died in 1994.
Mr Blair’s best known slogan at the time – “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” – was, according to supporters of Gordon Brown, thought up by Mr Brown, who was to be Mr Blair’s friend, rival and enemy throughout his career.
Theresa May’s most famous soundbite in opposition came in 2002 when, newly appointed as party chairman by then leader Iain Duncan Smith, she stunned the Tory conference by declaring: “You know what some people call us? The nasty party.”H
As prime minister, Mr Blair had it easy, with the luxury of majorities of 179, 167 and 64. The likes of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and their left-wing comrades could rebel night after night – and frequently did – and it didn’t matter.
And when 139 Labour MPs defied Mr Blair in the big vote on the Iraq war in 2003, Iain Duncan Smith marched Tory MPs into the Aye lobby with him, ensuring a comfortable victory. How Mrs May must wish Labour MPs would vote for her Brexit deal now.
She, on the other hand, had to go cap in hand to the Democratic Unionists after last year’s election, handing them a £1bn “bung” to prop up her government. And she has now discovered they are unreliable partners.
Not that Tony Blair was invincible in the Commons. After the 2005 election he suffered his first Commons defeat as PM, on 90-day detention for terror suspects, with 49 Labour MPs voting against him.
At PMQs before the vote he defiantly told MPs: “Sometimes it is better to lose and do the right thing than to win and do the wrong thing.” After pulling the Brexit vote last week, Theresa May clearly doesn’t subscribe to the 2005 Blair doctrine.
Their personalities are very different, too. He’s the extrovert who to this day boasts that a game of “keepy uppy” with Kevin Keegan when he was leader of the opposition was the best photo-opportunity he ever did. Brave, too.B
Theresa May’s campaigning during last year’s general election was uninspiring and her robotic answers to questions, particularly “nothing has changed” and “I’ve been very clear…” sapped what little energy there was out of her campaign.