2 July 2012

Is Blair reaping as he sowed?

A biblical quotation seems appropriate for a man of faith like Tony Blair:
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Galatians 6:7
but if you are one of those people who think Blair should be indicted as an Iraq war criminal, this post is probably not what you are looking for.

On 2 May 1997, a few days before his 44th birthday, Tony Blair became the youngest Prime Minister since the 42 year old Lord Liverpool in 1812 (a record which passed to David Cameron in 2010). Another record of sorts was also set that day and is still held by Blair’s immediate predecessor, John Major, who had lost the election at the age of 54. Before Major the only Prime Ministers in the 20th century to have left office for good below the age of 60 were Anthony Eden, in 1956 in poor health, and Lloyd George in 1922, both 59. Those of us who were part of Britain’s post-war bulge (ie born between 1946 and 1948 as explained in a previous post) could only look on bewildered in 1997 as power passed from a man older than us (much older in his outlook) to a younger man, born in 1953. In fact the only ‘one of us’ to feature significantly in politics since 1997 has been that great survivor Jack Straw, who was born in August 1946 and was present in all the Blair and Brown cabinets until 2010.

In 1995 Blair famously told his party conference that Britain was “a young country” and on 19 September 1996 published the seemingly now-forgotten New Britain: My Vision of a Young Country. The book certainly doesn’t get a mention in Alastair Campbell’s diaries, but a part of the entry for that exact date is worth noting. Campbell had sat in on an interview in which the subject of Blair’s mother’s sudden death when he was 22 had come up:
I said to him afterwards I’d never realised he was so close to his mum because he had never really opened up like that before, even in private. He said she was a wonderful woman and he still felt guided by her. … He said the thing his mother’s death had given him above all was a sense of urgency, the feeling that life is short, it can be cut even shorter, and you can pack in as much as you can while you’re here, and try to make a difference.
Last week there was a surge of media coverage for Blair, possibly carefully co-ordinated, ostensibly to mark the fifth anniversary of his leaving Downing Street. I’ve already mentioned his 24 June appearance on BBC1’s mid-market The Andrew Marr Show and this was followed three days later by guest editorship of the London Evening Standard (given away free but directed at white collar Londoners) and then on 30 June by a lengthy interview in the up-market FT magazine. The changes in style are quite amusing, from globally-concerned rock star semi-inarticulacy on Marr:
No it's absolutely not true - and, by the way, they did have their point of view. I mean this is why … The notion that cabinet never discussed this issue is absurd. I understand why people disagree over it, but it‟s not a matter of … There is no great … You know they’ve gone over this so many times. There is no great hidden conspiracy about this. It was a decision. Now some people agree with it, some people disagree with it. I think when you look at the Middle East today, I think again in the broad sweep of history people will take rather a different view of it.
to measured senior global statesman-speak for Lionel Barber in the FT:
“The rationale for Europe today is not peace; it is power. The rationale for Europe today is that [we are] in a geopolitical landscape that is rapidly changing, in which even a country the size of Germany, let alone France or the UK or Italy, is a fraction of the size of what are going to be the main geopolitical players. We can’t afford to be left on our own. We need the collective strength to advance individual interests.”
But the message from all three sessions was that Blair wants a big job:
ANDREW MARR: (over) Yes. But in domestic/European terms, another big job in it for you?  
TONY BLAIR: Well you know I‟ve always said I'm a public service person first, so I‟d have been happy carrying on as Prime Minister, I‟d have been happy taking the European job as President of the European Union. But you know if I'm not doing that, I'm going to make a difference in a different way. I think here you know where I can contribute, I will. If people want to listen, that's fine. If they don't, that's also fine.
Sarah Sands (editor of the Evening Standard) wrote:
Blair has said that he would like to do a big job in public life again, but when I try him on a job description, he looks wry, and reminds me that he was prime minister for 10 years: “What I can do is contribute to the debate, whether it is Europe or the Arab Spring or areas to do with economy and public service reform here.”  
Okay, I say. Let’s go for the obvious one. If you were offered another term as prime minister would you take it? “Yes, sure, but it’s not likely to happen is it, so…”
And with the FT's editor in the magazine:
Barber: “So what’s your route back?”  
Blair: “I don’t know exactly.”  
Barber: “But you want it. It’s clearly something that you feel ready [for].”  
Blair: “Yes, 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 … I would want to emphasise how fast the world around us is changing and how incredibly dangerous it is for us to think we can stand still.”
Well, we’ll see what turns up for him. One suggestion came from Jane Merrick in the Independent on Sunday the next day:
However The IoS understands that one job Mr Blair may be offered is director general of the World Trade Organisation, a post that comes up next year. The current holder, Pascal Lamy, is French and has served two four-year terms, and diplomatic sources have hinted that a British candidate would be in a good position to get the job. Even David Cameron is understood not to be opposed to Mr Blair's possible candidature.
The last sentence probably says it all, and anyway back in March the Guardian thought this was a job for Peter Mandelson.

Sands and Blair at the Evening Standard
Why all this exposure now? As a first guess Blair will be 60 next May and perhaps he takes such milestones seriously. After all, in 2007 he made sure that he stayed PM until 27 June – if he’d gone before 10 June he would have left office younger than Major. Also, there must come a point when the goldmine of prestigious and lucrative appearances as a speaker approaches exhaustion. It’s even possible that his JP Morgan advisory role (£2.5million a year the FT reckons) will come to an end eventually – surely not a contract which expired at 60?

If I sound a bit jaundiced about Blair entering his seventh decade, it’s probably because of the effect that his cult of youth had on the public sector’s attitude towards its older employees. Within a few years of New Labour’s taking office many of the 50-and-overs were getting the message that their faces no longer fitted. Any lingering ambitions for promotion were soon replaced by early retirement being a far more likely prospect. At the same time policy and strategy units were being set up in Downing Street and elsewhere setting the tone with staff whose principal qualification seemed to be that of being younger than Blair. And of course some of the SPADs of that period and type are now sitting on the Shadow front bench.

Subsequently the escalating pension bill has led to substantial increases in the pensionable age across the public sector. And although addressing age discrimination certainly wasn’t a New Labour priority, it eventually came under regulation in 2006 and appeared in the Equality Act 2010. But, if Blair is now feeling that his age is, quite unfairly, catching up with him (bus pass and fuel allowances due in 2013 - if they haven’t been abolished) and doesn’t care much for it, some of us might be forgiven for thinking that he might be reaping a little of what he sowed. But Blair, like Campbell, lives in an irony-free zone.


Tony Blair was interviewed for the Daily Telegraph on 24 July by Charles Moore. Moore explains that:
The Westminster Faith Debates, chaired by his former home secretary Charles Clarke, will close with a conversation tonight between Mr Blair, the Archbishop of Canterbury and me. The subject is religion and society.
and most of the interview has a religious theme, although Blair seems readier to talk about religions than his own Roman Catholic beliefs. Moore concluded with:
It has been a lively conversation, but I detect in him something like Britain’s famous problem of having lost an empire, but not yet found a role.  
At 59, he’s still young for a man in his position. He has been out of the game for five years, and now, you can see, he wants to get back in. ''Since I left office, I have learnt a huge amount, especially about what is happening in Europe and the world. Sometimes it’s quite shocking to me: how useful would this knowledge have been!’’  
He thinks, I suspect, that he’d be a better prime minister now than he was before. ''I’d like to find a form of intervening in debates.’’ How? By getting elected again? ''I don’t think that’s possible.’’ A peerage? A wonderful look of amused contempt suffuses his tanned face. Something in Europe, perhaps? ''I would have taken the job [the presidency of the European Council] if they had offered it to me, but they didn’t.’’  
Europe, he says, is ''opening up’’. I thought it was closing down, I say. Tony Blair grins. ''Well, what is happening now is not sustainable.” There are ''big, big questions here, involving the political reconstruction of Europe. The single currency will break up unless we stop it.’’ And on that exciting note, the man who would like the job is gone.

In the Guardian on 27 July Simon Jenkins took a very dim view of the possibility of Tony Blair’s reentry to British political life. He also referenced an interview that Blair gave to CNN's Christiane Amanpour on 17 July which includes the following:

AMANPOUR: Is there more public office in view for Tony Blair? Everybody’s talking about how you’re positioning yourself to make a comeback.
BLAIR: I’m not really. It’s just that people ask you the question in a way that says, you know, rule it out, and I kind of think, well, why should I? But that’s not the same as planning to do it. You know what I mean? So I - I’m a public service person. You know, I would have liked staying as prime minister. I would have taken the European job had it been offered me. So that’s my preference. But I’m also enjoying the life I’ve got and doing lots of things and you know, I kind of let the future take care of itself.
AMANPOUR: You didn’t want to step down?
BLAIR: It was - you know, it became very difficult for me to stay, other than a lot of damage to my party, but also probably to my country. So I decided to go. And I’d done it ten years, you know, it’s a long time.
AMANPOUR: Sounds like you’re keeping the door open, though.
BLAIR: It's literally - I mean, maybe I should just shut it, but I just kind of think, “Why?” I mean, you know, the - so, look, I've still got plenty of ideas and energy. But I can't see anything happening on the horizon. I'm not planning or plotting or scheming.

No comments:

Post a Comment