16 July 2012

Ed Miliband, the Blairs and the Olympics

A few posts back, I commented wryly on Tony Blair’s looking for a new big job as his 60th birthday looms:
I feel I’ve got something to say. If people want to listen, that’s great, and if they don’t, that’s their choice …
Well, something seems to have turned up. According to the Office of Tony Blair, he addressed the Labour Sports Dinner at White City on 11 July, and said:
… it is an honour to be here tonight to support our Party, whose values and principles I have always believed in and always will. And to support Ed, support his leadership, support his drive to make our Party win. Leaders need support. What they usually get is ‘advice’. So Ed, you don’t need my advice but you will have my support.
The dull-as-ditchwater Ed Miliband website has yet to put up his speech nor did @Ed_Miliband tweet about it, but the Labour Party site pre-announced ‘Ed Miliband MP, speaking at Labour’s Sports Dinner, will say’ including:
Mr Miliband will announce that Labour’s Policy Review will consider how best to learn the lessons from the Olympic Games and maximise both its economic and its sporting legacies. Tony Blair has agreed to contribute his ideas and experience to Labour’s Policy Review on these issues. The work will be co-ordinated by the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, along with input from the Office of Shadow DCMS Secretary Harriet Harman, and Shadow Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell.
Juliette Jowit in the Guardian the next day under the headline, Meet the new Labour adviser: Tony Blair, reported that:
Tony Blair is to take his most active part in the Labour party since retiring from frontline politics, contributing ideas and experience to Ed Miliband's policy review. Blair, who stepped down as prime minister five years ago, will be giving advice on the Olympic legacy and in particular how to "maximise both its economic and its sporting legacies", Miliband said last night.  
… The controversial move – perhaps especially within the Labour party – was announced at a fundraising event when Miliband and Blair symbolically shared a platform to make speeches. Miliband, who was more closely allied to Gordon Brown during the 13 years of Labour government, declared that Blair's help for the party marked a "coming together of the Labour tribe".  
… The joint appearance was organised by Alastair Campbell, Blair's spin doctor for his first six years as PM, the former Labour general secretary Lady McDonagh, and Richard Caborn, sports minister during the successful Olympic bid. Other guests at the event included the former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott.  
… With much of his own party – and the country – still angry about the legacy of Blair's decision to take Britain into the Iraq war, and Labour's clear departure from socialism under his reign, Miliband will be aware that Blair's new role will not be universally welcomed. Last night aides played down Blair's policy position, saying it should not be "over-interpreted". "It's something Tony knows a lot about," said one insider. "He's got the sports foundation and he was instrumental in bringing the Games to London."
Tony Blair's new quartet
Miliband’s motives in getting closer to Blair have since been the subject of some speculation. Followed shortly afterwards by his appearance at the Durham Miners Gala, it could be that Ed is working at sealing over any party fissures with the Blairites on the one hand and the Old Labour union base on the other. After all, the next election may be sooner than 2015. Not surprisingly then, Blair’s re-entry into British politics hasn’t been welcomed warmly by the Tory press. The headlines of Peter Oborne’s article in the Daily Telegraph on 14 July, Tony Blair's back - and he's dangerous for the Tories and Labour, The former prime minister’s rapprochement with Ed Miliband is a coup, but his business interests may come back to haunt the Labour Party, and Paul Scott’s in the Daily Mail two days later, Return of the Perma-tan PM: He's earning £20m a year and gained a taste for deep-sea fishing. But suddenly Tony Blair is courting Labour again - and dreaming of a startling comeback, sum it up without having to read further.

But there is also the issue of who takes the credit and who manages to avoid any blame after the London Olympics. It’s interesting that there are three critical articles (by Nick Cohen, Andrew Gilligan and Charles Moore) in July 14th's Spectator homing in on the deficiencies of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, obviously the responsibility of the last Labour government, and on the theme of the Olympic authorities’ and the sponsors’ tastelessness and heavy handedness in protecting their brand interests. Fraser Nelson weighed in again on the Spectator’s Coffee House website, The Battle with the Olympic Censors.  At which point it is only fair to quote the Culture Olympics Media and Sport Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, on BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show on 15 July to the effect that the sponsors are covering half the cost of the games.

Labour will presumably want to get its share of any credit – ‘Blair who won it for London in 2005’ – and Miliband can also deflect any resentment about the ‘corporatist dystopia’ identified by Cohen onto the ancien régime – ‘those Blairites again’. Even better, should people start wondering whether it was such a good idea in the first place for the UK to have hosted the Olympics.

En passant, while “sources” in the Daily Mail and elsewhere can’t always be trusted, the conclusion of Scott’s article slips in something we might hear more of:
Sources close to the family say 28-year-old Euan, Tony and Cherie’s eldest son, has quit his job at the London office of U.S. bankers Morgan Stanley in preparation for his own career in politics. He is said by friends to be keen to find a Labour seat where he can stand as an MP.

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