Loss raises poser over era for Blair


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 15 Jun 2003

By Tan Kah Peng

WHEN rising Blairite Alan Milburn called it a day, the media immediately went in search of skeletons in his cupboard. 

So far, the newspapers have not found any hidden reasons for his resignation on Thursday as Secretary of State for Health, except that he wanted to devote more time to his family. 

His surprise decision was seen by commentators as a serious blow to Prime Minister Tony Blair in the drive to reform the National Health Service. More importantly, Blair has lost his third close ally, who was spearheading the healthcare reforms, which will, together with education, be crucial to the next general election. 

Will Milburn’s departure tip the political balance in Cabinet where he and Chancellor Gordon Brown did not see eye-to-eye on health service reform? 

Brown is seen as the man who will decide when Britain joins the euro, and his “yes, but not yet” decision was interpreted as a blow to Blair. 

“The challenge facing Blair now is to overcome the impression that, a decade after he won the Labour leadership, the Blairite era has somehow passed its peak,” said a Financial Times report. 

Blair’s decision to appoint John Reid to take over the key portfolio is also significant: Reid is a loyal ally expected to press ahead with the reforms and therefore take on Brown. 

While Milburn’s resignation was the surprise of the day, a more significant event was Blair’s decision to overhaul the judicial system for more than a century. 

He abolished the office of Lord Chancellor, who was the head of the judiciary, Speaker of the House of Lords and a Cabinet member. 

There will be a US-style supreme court to replace the law lords, a new independent judicial appointments commission, and a new Speaker of the Lords. 

Modernists welcomed the move, which effectively separates politics from the law, but the Conservatives were up in arms over the lack of consultation on such a major move. 

“Let’s not play Pooh-sticks with 800 years of British liberty,” said Lord Onslow, the Tory peer, who described the decision as “almost Saddamesque.” 

Commentators expect to see more changes to the House of Lords, with the prospect of a majority of elected members not completely ruled out. 

Modernists see the far-reaching overhaul of the judiciary as being in line with the 21st century. 

 

  • Transfer tale 

    FOOTBALL-mad Britain was in the grip of the David Beckham saga this whole week with tales of heartbreak and ruthless machinations over his coming transfer. 

    Officially, the Manchester United star does not want to go to Spain or Italy, unhappy with his cold treatment, presumably by Sir Alec Ferguson. 

    Apparently, it has now emerged that Beckham and his advisers have been actively looking for a new club, preferably Real Madrid and AC Milan, since April. 

    Beckham must have read the signs on the wall as reports say he is now surplus to requirements by Ferguson’s new diamond format instead of the 4-4-2 system. 

    His off-the-field celebrity lifestyle with his ex-Spice Girl wife has also not endeared him to the boss, who was famously involved in a “boot-in-the-eye” incident with his star player. 

    So the bidding is now wide open: £30mil offer from a lawyer eyeing the president’s post at Barcelona (if he wins), and more to come. 

    It looks like Chancellor Gordon Brown, a football fan, is also keen on the sale – his vested interest is in the amount the taxman would pocket from the deal. 

    The Treasury, according to The Times, would almost pocket a third of the £30mil transfer fee, which would be the biggest windfall from a British footballer. 

    Beckham may be a celebrity, but to the taxman he is simply “a trading asset.” 

    Looks like the Beckham saga will go into injury time. 

     

  • Tan Kah Peng is Editor, European Union Bureau, based in London (e-mail: eurofile@thestar.com.my )  

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