Sunday, 9 January 2022

The Blue Velvet Mantle

Only the Queen can have had any role in the conferral of the Order of the Garter. There is no way out of that one. And it is no wonder that the Conservative Party and its Press, especially the Daily Telegraph, are so keen to defend that conferral on Tony Blair. When he was Prime Minister, then they had no more than three disagreements with him, or three and a half at a push, and only the half seems real now.

First, from the moment that John Major ceased to be Leader, then the Conservative policy and the Telegraph line were to counter Blair's proposed removal of hereditary peers by calling for a fully elected second chamber. That was the dispute, and it remained so throughout the existence of the Blair and Brown Governments.

Beyond eccentric backbenchers and eccentric columnists, from day one there was no defence of hereditary peers, who in any case are still there as an integral part of the parliamentary process, although it is nearly 30 years since even Major said that no more hereditary peerages would ever be created. If the Conservative Party had an desire to restore the old order in full, or indeed to create a Senate, then it has had long enough to do so.

Secondly, from the moment that William Hague became Leader, then the Conservative policy and the particularly enthusiastic Telegraph line were to counter Blair's proposal for same-sex civil partnerships by calling for same-sex marriage. That was the dispute, and it remained so throughout the existence of the Blair and Brown Governments.

Even then, the Conservatives did support civil partnerships. Once they returned to office, then of course they introduced same-sex marriage as well, by then supported from outside Parliament by Blair, although Brown, who was still an MP, never voted for it.

Thirdly, there was the hunting ban, although that was never a Government measure, and Blair did not vote for it in the end. He and Hilary Armstrong, who also did not vote for it, had used it in order to buy support for the Iraq War, but almost all Conservative MPs had already been supportive of that, and the Telegraph was fanatically so.

Blair bet Prince Charles a tenner that 10 years after the ban, hunting would be continuing unimpeded. In due season, that debt was honoured. Almost as far on again, and here in hunting areas, an entire generation would be forgiven for having no idea that any ban had ever been enacted.

And fourthly, if at all, there was the attempt to detain people for 90 days without charge. Not trial. Charge. The Conservatives voted against that on the assumption that it would pass, albeit with a greatly reduced Government majority.

When it was defeated, then they voted with the Government to allow people to be detained for 28 days without charge. Not trial. Charge. That remains the law. Expect 90 days or more to become so in the very near future. Any Conservative rebels would easily be overwhelmed by a Labour three-line whip.

By the last days of Blair, then there were hardly any Commons Divisions, and when there were, then the Conservatives generally voted with the Government. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were far more likely not to. Except when supporting the Government, then they almost never "voted with the Tories". For a time, it was something like a weekly occurrence that the Opposition provided the Government's majority, much as now.

All in all, it is no wonder that the Conservative Party and its Press, especially the Daily Telegraph, are so keen to defend Blair's Garter. As for Brown, they have always been personally abusive of him for being state-educated, or Scottish, or both, but they had no policy difference with his response to the Crash, and in fact his manifesto in 2010 promised even greater austerity than they were eventually forced to inflict by their Whiggish and Gladstonian Coalition partners. If they noticed his Order of the Thistle in the next couple of years, then they would ridicule it, but they would not object to it, any more than they objected to Blair's Garter.


  1. So much of this history is forgotten.

    1. As ever, nothing is more remote than the recent past.