UK Politics

The Cassandra of Downing Street

Andrew Rawnsley has some interesting observations on Tony Blair’s approach to the terrorist threat and the language he chooses to use. He notes that the public don’t seem to be on message.

Tony Blair’s understandable obsession with the terrorist threat has created a quite severe dislocation between him and a large section of his public. I am not talking here about those who were opposed to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and will predictably blame every terrorist act on that. I am talking more about middle-of-the-road voters, what one senior government adviser calls ‘focus group Britain’. These people have been telling Mr Blair’s focus groups that they want him to concentrate less on international affairs and get back to the economy, education, health and crime, the bread-and-butter issues that impact on their daily lives.

He certainly would like to be able to put behind him endless disputation about why he went to war in Iraq. But, if anything, he does not think the country has yet ‘got it’ about the gravity of the menace posed by international terrorism. That, I think, is further explanation for why his language about it has become so extreme.

I have increasingly got the sense that Tony Blair feels that he has turned into the Cassandra of Downing Street. He issues his warnings to the people about the threat. He is fated to be right. And doomed to be ignored.

The Twin Towers may well have been a ‘wake-up call’ to the Prime Minister. For much of his country, it was not long before people punched the snooze button, snuggled back under the duvet of prosperity and went back to sleep.

Istanbul was another alarm bell which, in a matter of days, faded from Britain’s consciousness. Will Madrid finally shake people into paying attention? Or will it take what keeps Mr Blair awake at night – a British 9/11.