He's gone all American. Guys, it's where the money is
00:03 GMT, 19 December 2012
00:03 GMT, 19 December 2012
Since Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond, and surely before, old thesps have found it agony to retire. They have dreamed of reviving their glory years, of delighting once more their past, adoring public – only to find that the magic has vanished like morning’s gossamer.
Tony Blair sashayed back to Westminster yesterday to speak to a lunch full of political reporters. ‘I just wanted to feel what it was like again,’ he said, gaunt, blue-suited, his fringe still tweezered and his diet fastidious (he barely touched his grub). ‘Now it’s all coming back again.’
But was it And will he Or did the former prime minister leave the event feeling that it was the roles that had become small
Return: Tony Blair sashayed back to Westminster yesterday to speak to a lunch full of political reporters
His accent has changed, again. The pukka Fettesian once smudged his Anglo-Scottish ‘okay yah’ voice by acquiring the glottal stops of Estuary English. The class politics of the 1990s demanded it. Now he has gone all American. Guys, it’s where the money is.
‘I’m a liddl oudda practice engaging with the Bridish media,’ said the man who was once entrusted with defending our national interest in Washington’s counsels of war.
He kept ending sentences with that Californian surfer-girl uplift. He used ‘impact’ and ‘reference’ as transitive verbs. The one subject he would not touch in any way was US gun law after the Connecticut killings. Didn’t want to risk damaging his brand stateside, I suppose.
All American: Blair, pictured with George Bush in 2005, ended sentences with a Californian surfer-girl uplift
He spoke initially for just over ten minutes, which on the American lecture circuit probably represents about fifty thousand quid’s worth.
There were some mouldy jokes and ancedotes. Then we were into some Blairite blue-sky baloney about how ‘we live in an age of uniquely low predictability’ (what even more unpredictable than the early 1940s, or the Cuban missile crisis – oh come off it) and how he remains ‘a third-way progressive – play to the future instead of playing to prejudice’. That can be made to mean just about anything.
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After the formal speech he took questions, affecting innocence about some recent domestic events – though he had read the Leveson Report and naturally approved of it, though he was iffy on the details.
The old Blair trick of creating Aunt Sallys was there. Asked about immigration, he said it was quite wrong to make immigrants ‘scapegoats’. Is anyone at Westminster seriously doing that Not that I’ve heard.
Compared to David Cameron, Mr Blair is plainly older, more gnarled, skinnier, more royal.
Ed Miliband’s Press chap was just in front of me, listening closely. One would be hard put to report that Mr Blair offered the current Labour leader solid support. In fact, on welfare reform he sounded closer to the Tory position. He said he would not comment on Labour’s policies but argued that ‘people are just looking for solutions – everyone knows the world has changed’. Does Ed Miliband Does Ed Balls Discuss.
Was he interested in returning to British politics ‘I’m not positioning for it,’ he said. What a peachy form of words, sufficiently slangy to be liquid. But he added: ‘I feel strongly about certain issues.’ I’d say there is still some lead in his barrel. The ambition is not spent.
He did, however, accept that the presidency of the European Council was a goner for him. ‘The presidency of Europe has gone. Mr van Rompuy is doing it.’ This ‘Mr’ was beautifully freighted with just a half-ounce of derision.
What you notice, after 45 minutes of sermonising from this still glistening cake of soap, is how seldom he refers to the voters, to the electorate, to the great unwashed. Other politicians frequently mention ‘the people’. Not Blair. No wonder he is keen on Leveson.
It was, he said, ‘dangerous’ to discuss immigration. For him, immigration policy ‘always comes in a box marked “handle with care”.’ This was how he closed down public debate on immigration a decade ago – even while allowing it to increase like billy-oh.
Voters who have drifted to UKIP were also put in their place. UKIP, he said, was ‘never far from being nasty and never close to being sensible’. Never far from being nasty. That’s our Tony!