Yesterday saw two interesting things happen. Actually I lie; we saw one interesting thing and one fairly mundane thing. I'll start with the latter, the Chancellor's debates. To be honest I'm not overly surprised that the debate was so boring. The audience weren't allowed to heckle or applaud or anything, although they did occasionally applaud, mainly for Vince Cable. Although as George Osborne said, with respect, there isn't going to be a Liberal Democrat government. This is a shame really as he comes across particularly well and will no doubt be a vital asset to the Lib Dems overall appeal. After all it is currently crucial that the party's vying for government portray themselves as competent, with strong leadership and a strong team around it.
The Lib Dems have leadership and depth in their team of Clegg, Cable and Huhne and whilst government is still out of their grasp they look set to enjoy significant influence in the next Parliament. The Tories on the other hand have a strong leader in Cameron but he's currently a solo project. I mean okay Osborne came across reasonably (and surprisingly, given his reaction, or lack of, to Darlings budget) competent in the Chancellors debates, but he is still a long way off Darling and Cable. If you take Cameron, Osborne and Hague and compare them to Labours Brown, Darling and Milliband you'll be hard pressed to argue in the Tories favour when it comes to the team in general. However there is, of course, the question of leadership. Brown is frequently accused of lacking in this area whereas Cameron seems both comfortable and capable in his role. Unlike the Conservatives team, which is found wanting with Osborne and Hague (I'd suggest going back to the drawing board were they not so likely to be in power soon). Labour have most of the essential ingredients, they just lacks a sort of charisma, someone instantly likeable, a proven public speaker capable of winning the affections of many and the criticisms of few.
This brings me on to the much more interesting thing that happened the morning after the debates, Labour unveiling a potential WMD. Maybe even the missing piece of a complete Labour pre-election campaign jigsaw. Believe it or believe it not, it was the return of Tony Blair. Not to politics as such, but in support of Brown and the Labour party's election campaign. This was met by many varying responses. Glee it would seem from the party members in Sedgefield who it would appear weren't expecting him at all. Some anti-war protesters turned up to welcome him too, although as the Guardian reported, not many... And Cameron said that it was nice to see him doing a speech he wasn't getting paid for, which did amuse me a little.
Overall though it would seem that his debut on the campaign trail was quite a success, in spite of constant mentions of his sun tan and the fact he apparently said 'bedder' rather than 'better'. He never once mentioned Cameron by name, and only really commended Brown personally for his handling of the economy. Elsewhere he mainly praised Labour in general, pointing out the most positive improvements since they came to power in 1997 and slating the Tories, rather extensively, yet somehow not overly aggressively. He definitely hasn't lost his touch as a speaker, as ever his audience lapped it up, even the press seemed to. It was almost a welcome return.
It would seem that his overall part in Labours pre-election campaign is as yet unconfirmed. However if he has indeed been as positively received as I have been led to believe then Labour's campaign could have a much needed boost, Team Labour could have found their man. His addition leaves the 'bigging up' of the Labour party to Tony Blair, which is a smooth move as Darling has his hands a bit tied with the economy and the Budget, policies on which this election may well be lost and won. Brown can get on with the business of running the country, which should help him to look good as he needs to look like leader of the country more than ever. Blair, who is no longer a politician but who will obviously continue to get attention if he keeps on campaigning, can carry on pointing out the pro's of Labour and the Con's of the Tories and get away with it. Overall Labour could look like a serious and united party. Either way Blair can provide a useful additional target for abuse from the other party's, helping (although possibly hindering) Brown.
This still might not be enough to retain government though. Regardless of his charisma (and his tan and his accent and his thinning hair) he is still not without his enemies. Whilst it would appear that Blair is now good and is getting involved in the election campaign because it's something he believes in and is best for the country many will still have their doubts. For example some people are still a bit angry about Iraq war...I can't think why. Some will think that he's lied once and he'll lie again whilst others may assume that there is an underlying self interest, especially given his forays into the world of business since leaving government. And let's not forget the '13 years of Labour' that the Tories keep damning are mostly attributed to him. Also he's not really a bona-fide member of the Labour team, just temporarily out of retirement, on loan for the difficult spell, filling the gaping cracks in Labours all important exterior.
But nevertheless, his presence is bound to concern Cameron. You could hardly argue that Blair isn't savvy when it comes to politics. Any positive characteristics that Cameron has over Brown can mostly be found in Blair. I can't imagine that anyone else has a secret weapon anywhere near as (potentially) good as this up their shirt sleeves, least of all the Tories.