When dealing with stories emanating from "Senior Ministers," "Downing Street sources", "Friends of the Prime Minister" and the like, it is never particularly advisable to take things at face value. Such, I think, is the case with today's Guardian story asserting that Tony Blair will "go early" if anyone at No 10 is charged over the cash-for-honours affair.
Now don't get me wrong. I don't doubt for a moment that Patrick Wintour's story is accurate, in the sense that (i) someone fairly senior said this to him, and (ii) that Blair would indeed quit if one of his key aides faced charges. He could hardly do otherwise.
But what I am questioning is why someone close to Blair - and Wintour's contacts are pretty good in that sort of area - would want this information out in the open now, and specifically why a story speculating about the circumstances in which he could be forced to quit would be considered helpful.
It's just a thought - but I wonder if No 10 is playing the expectations game, deliberately setting the bar at "charges" so that, for instance, any further "arrests" involving his inner circle can be brushed aside.
My reason for asking this is that while I suspect that the cash-for-honours probe will eventually result in charges - the claims on Guido and elsewhere that they've found the smoking gun ring true to me - I also suspect that no charges will actually be brought until Blair has left No 10.
Why do I think that? Well, for no reason other than that if the Police and the CPS can somehow avoid embroiling themselves in the unedifying spectacle of unseating a democratically-elected leader, with all the inevitable constitutional flak that will entail, then what have they really got to lose by a few months' delay?
But let's just say for the sake of argument that Blair's people actually know, rather than just suspect, that this is the case. Well, if so, they know they can pretty safely promise that Blair will go early if charges are brought, without any fear of being made to deliver on the pledge.
As I said, it's just a thought....
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