Just in

Where there’s a Blair there’s a way

Occasionally – just very occasionally – I find myself descending from the haughty eyrie from which I habitually delight in looking down upon and skewering the preening mendacity and hypocrisies of our Establishment and political class and surprise myself by identifying instances of things done or said by members of said grouping that are to be admired and/or possibly feel positive about.

I used the word ‘surprise’ in my opening paragraph because sometimes – as today – these relate to people whom over time I have become used to treating as pariahs and/or ‘easy to hit’ targets of opprobrium or derision.

Of course, there’s an alternative possibility potentially involved – viz. that I have gone soft in my old age – but at this stage of my descent into senility I remain confident that there is still enough bile left in the tank to maintain full power for a few years yet!

My post today springs from the fact that twice in the last 48 hours I have witnessed TV programme appearances by the heavily-criticised and derided former UK Labour premier – key CV plus the best part of eleven years in Number 10 – Tony Blair, firstly upon Sunday’s BBC1 Andrew Marr Show and secondly ITV’s Good Morning Britain, which is hosted on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays by the ‘Marmite’ media figure Piers Morgan and Susannah Reid.

As a living ‘hate figure’ in British culture – well, certainly amongst the chattering classes – Mr Blair occupies a permanent Top Three position.

For left-leaning members of the Labour Party and their fellow travellers (Hard Left entryists and those of Momentum persuasion) – please bear with my convoluted explanation of the whacky logic involved here – he committed the cardinal sin of overturning Labour’s consistently abysmal record of failing to win General Elections and [far worse, of course] doing it by abandoning a large proportion of ‘traditional Labour pro-working class interest’ policies and – via his ‘New Labour’ re-launch ruse – moving the Party to the Centre, or even Centre-Right, just as the Tories, by departing these self-same territories in response to its own ‘head bangers’ on the far Right, effectively allowed him the opportunity (in footballing parlance) to take penalties at an open goal.

To heap insult upon insult, he did this in no fewer than three General Elections on the Trot [sorry, I should have said ‘trot’].

For all but Labour Party members, the fundamental causes of the general revulsion caused by the sight of Mr Blair in action was his transparent love of the limelight and his apparently principle-free self-image as an ordinary bloke and ‘man of the people’.

In short, he was both a charismatic actor/chameleon with a knack for coming up with an inspired turn of phrase and actually – fair dos, here – rather good in the role.

Not that anybody trusted him in it.

For me, the bottom line was his ‘man of the people’ thing. Probably the best example of it was Mr Blair’s attempt to deflect criticism when, shortly after Labour accepted a £1 million donation from Bernie Ecclestone in 1997, Formula One was then exempted from a blanket ban on tobacco sponsorship in sport.

He was interviewed on the BBC’s On The Record programme and, after apologising profusely to the public for what had happened, in stoutly denying that there had been any impropriety on his part, uttered the immortal words “I think most people who have dealt with me think I am a pretty straight sort of a guy, and I am …”.

Separately, of course, he was the kind of politician completely at ease with saying to the electorate “Tell me where you want to go, and I’ll lead you there” which – to quote the great Molesworth, anti-hero of the Ronald Searle books, ‘as any fule no’ – is no kind of leader at all.

From there it was no distance at all – only a few metres – to his demonisation as a quasi-Dracula figure and ‘Bliar’ in the wake of the Iraq War, the dodgy dossier and the death of Dr Kelly.

And then, of course, after his departure as Premier, he scarcely altered his image by his naked (David Beckham-like) activities to retain the spotlight and make zillions of £s sterling by flying around the word as an ‘adviser for hire’ to any tin-pot lunatic fascist regime or quasi-governmental organisation who would have him and then building up a massive property empire with which to furnish his family’s personal nest.

But I have digressed too long in my prologue – let us return to Mr Blair’s two recent television interviews.

To be honest, his appearance on the Marr show was relatively unimpressive. He looks a little older and touched by the ravages of time with his receding hair on the forehead but – with make-up laid on with a trowel (or was it just his perma-tan?) – the ‘old’ Blair was still lurking underneath.

He knew that his biggest weakness would be the thought in every viewer’s mind that (as an arch-Remainer) here he was again, seeking to interfere, overturn the result of the 2016 EU Referendum, and ‘because, like all those in his camp, he knew better than the dopes who voted Leave’, reverse it via a Second ‘People’s Vote’ Referendum. So he downplayed all of that and gave one of his mini-Laurence Olivier performances as the nice guy on the outside who was simply suggesting a way out of the current Brexit-departure Mess.

Far, far, better was his appearance yesterday on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

No doubt he’d reviewed the Marr tapes and analysed how he could improve his presentation.

After a commercial break, there he was – sitting at the studio desk to one side of Piers Morgan and Susannah Reid, no doubt disarming them as he was disarming this viewer with his humble persona.

Mention was made of the fact that the interviewee to follow him on screen was ageing warbler Engelbert Humperdink, to which he quipped “Ah, it’s come to this, I’m the warm-up act …” and later, when Morgan pressed him upon what policies he and Jeremy Corbyn might agree upon, Mr Blair paused theatrically and, smiling broadly, said “Er… let me get back to you on that one …”.

However, when it came to cutting to the essence of the issue in what was a tight (ten minute) spot, he saw off the opening bowling with ease and began stroking the ball to the boundary with regularity.

The way he told it, Mrs May’s EU deal was a complete dead duck because it satisfied nobody.

To summarise his case, it didn’t satisfy Remainers because it would result in us being far worse off than if we remained in the EU, where at least the UK would have the opportunity to make the laws it was going to be subject to.

Furthermore, he had no doubt that – especially now that several EU countries were seeking fundamental reforms of the EU – if the UK was to indicate it wished to remain, the EU would be prepared to make serious concessions in welcoming us back into the fold.

From the opposite point of view, he said that Mrs May’s deal was also unacceptable to ‘proper’ (hard-line) Brexiteers because it would leave the UK potentially permanently tied to the EU and unable to implement overseas deals with other countries unless at some point the EU agreed to let it go.

Challenged by Morgan that, in effect, this meant that his line meant that we would be left with only a ‘No Deal’ departure, Mr Blair denied it.

In his view – whether immediately or over a period of time – even with a totally full-on Brexit departure, some sort of free-trade deal would eventually be negotiated with the EU.

His support of a Second (‘People’s Vote’) Referendum was based upon (another) straight “Leave or Remain” binary question. In other words, stay in the EU – or else leave on the basis of a true Brexit, in which trade deals could be struck and implemented immediately and the EU would have no rights over UK decisions etc. Under this option some set of (admittedly initially complicated and onerous) arrangements would be worked out to keep our trade with the EU flowing.

I have to confess that it seemed to make a fair amount of sense to me. It certainly presents as a possible route to getting us out of the unholy mess we’re in at the moment.

[Or is it that I’ve been beguiled once again by that old Blair Black Magic and am making a fool of myself once again?]

To finish with today, here’s a link today to a Quentin Letts review of yesterday’s performance in the House of Commons by Tory MP and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC, explaining his legal advice to the Government on Mrs May’s EU deal whilst also refusing to release the actual version as is being demanded by MPs on all sides.

I offer it to Rust readers this morning only because it made me laugh out loud several times – see here, on the website of the – DAILY MAIL







About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts