Tag Archives: tony blair

Class warfare and other complete and utter wastes of time and energy

I FELT strangely depressed yesterday on reading this over at LabourList. That in this day and age we can still have this kind of “debate” in the Labour Party is incredibly dispiriting.

I mean, come on! A maximum wage!? And it’s not just left-wingers who betray this level of disengagement from reality: many right-wing and Tory-supporting commenters on this site have, over the months, left barbed and pointed comments expressing their resentment that Tony Blair is earning many millions of pounds a year. Good for him, say I.

And while we’re at it, good for Geoff Hoon for hiring a private tutor for his daughter. Any decent parent would do the same, and I certainly would, without hesitation or apology, if I felt any of my sons would benefit from it.

So there.

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Filed under Blogging, Society

Bush praises his ‘gallant friend’

PRESIDENT Bush made a very moving, personal and true tribute to Tony Blair today when presenting him with the Medal of Freedom. 

Hat-tip to Guido, who has published it in full without comment. I’ll do the same:

The first day I met Tony Blair, almost exactly eight years ago, he was in his second term as Prime Minister and I was just starting out. After our first meeting, a reporter asked if we’d found anything in common, and I jokingly replied that we both used Colgate toothpaste. (Laughter.)

The truth is I did feel a close connection to Tony Blair. As I said after the first meeting, I knew that “when either of us gets in a bind, there will be a friend on the other end of the phone.” My friend was there, indeed, after America was attacked on September the 11th, 2001. And it just wasn’t on the phone line. When I stood in the House Chamber to ask the civilized world to rally to freedom’s cause, there in the gallery was the staunch friend, Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He was there in a moment of trial to affirm the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. And he was there to show America, and all nations, that he understood the stakes in the war on terror. As he said, “just as the terrorist seeks to divide humanity in hate, so we have to unify it around an idea. And that idea is liberty.” Under Tony Blair’s leadership, the might and the moral authority of Great Britain have been applied to the war on terror from the first day. Our nations have worked proudly together to destroy terrorist havens, liberate millions, and help rising democracies to serve the aspirations of their people.

Tony Blair’s entire career is defined by his devotion to democratic values and human dignity. At his very center, this man believes in freedom — freedom from oppression, freedom from hunger, freedom from disease, and freedom from fear and despair. In the House of Commons, as the longest-serving Labour Prime Minister in history, he fought to lift up his nation’s communities and better the lives of all its people. He helped turn generations of violence in Northern Ireland into years of peace. He drew the attention and conscience of the world to the suffering in Africa, and he continues to serve the cause of peace and democracy as the Quartet Envoy to the Middle East.

Out of office but still in public life, Tony Blair remains on the world stage as a man of high intelligence and insight — and above all, as a man of faith and idealism and integrity. The former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will stand tall in history. And today the United States of America proudly honors its gallant friend, Tony Blair.

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Filed under International, United States

Ten-four, Rubber Duck, we got ourselves an envoy…

I’M HARDLY qualified to criticise anyone else’s typos, but this over at PoliticsHome made me smile. Conjures up quite an image, doesn’t it?

PoliticsHome

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Filed under Blogging, Whimsy

Congratulations, Tony

WHAT a pity I won’t be able to see for myself the violent expulsion of soggy muesli from the mouths of thousands of Guardian readers as they open their papers in the morning to see that Tony Blair is to be given America’s highest civilian award.

Well done, Tony – well deserved. The sensible parts of the country will be proud of you.

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Filed under International, United States

From ministerial Mondeo to back bench

THE Mail on Sunday have today published a slightly edited version of an article they commissioned from me on the subject of how a minister is sacked and adjusts to his new life, a subject I feel eminently qualified to discuss. 

You can’t read MoS’s online version (in the Review section) without paying to register on its site, apparently, but below is my original draft; the “director’s cut”, if you will:

THE CLASSIC Motown song, “This Old Heart of Mine” by the Isley Brothers, is the default ringtone on my phone, and at precisely 7.50 pm it started to play as “number withheld” appeared on the display. Having just put my two young sons to bed, I was getting changed out of my suit in the spare bedroom. Still in a state of partial undress, I answered the call.

“This is the Number 10 switchboard. Can you hold for the prime minister?”

Well, there aren’t too many answers to that question, are there? I walked downstairs clutching the phone to my ear and went into the kitchen where my wife, Carolyn, was making a late dinner. “Number 10,” I mouthed silently at her, and she immediately switched off the blaring radio.

The received wisdom about reshuffles is that if you’re going to get sacked, it’s done early on in the day. Having heard nothing so far, I was pretty confident that a call this late in the day would surely mean promotion. I knew I had done a good job at transport. I also knew that Minister of State in that department was now vacant. Or immigration, perhaps? Europe even?

And with such optimistic expectancy did I take the call from the prime minister. The conversation was brief: he was bringing new people into the government, and that meant some people would have to leave. My heart sank, my stomach lurched and I made a “thumbs-down” gesture to Carolyn, who mouthed a word that ladies shouldn’t really utter.

Later on, I would think of clever retorts and witty one-liners, such as “Oh, bloody hell, Gordon!” But at the time I was so shell-shocked, I merely acquiesced in his request that I “step aside” for the greater good of the government. I’m not entirely sure but I may even have said “Thanks for calling…”

That same morning a courier had delivered a ministerial red box, heavy with unsigned letters and policy submissions for my approval. Suddenly, in the space of a single telephone conversation, I had been transformed from a minister of the crown to a back bench MP with no authority even to open the box, let alone read any of its contents.

Carolyn’s sense of irony never deserts her, and that evening she insisted we crack open a bottle of Champagne.

Until then, I had been in government, in one role or another, for five years. Before becoming a minister, I had been parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to Northern Ireland minister John Spellar (2003-2005), then PPS to health secretary Patricia Hewitt (2005-2006). In September 2006, I turned down an invitation from fellow back benchers to sign a letter requesting that Tony Blair resign as prime minister. A minister who did add his name was forced to resign as a result, and the ensuing mini-reshuffle brought me into the government as a minister at the Department for Transport (DfT).

To this day I have never regretted refusing to sign that letter; and being appointed as a minister by Tony Blair remains the proudest moment of my political life.

As a minister, at least while Parliament was sitting, I would leave my Glasgow home at 6.30 am on a Monday in order to catch the 7.10 am train to Euston. The first silver lining of my sacking became apparent on the following Monday when I caught the 3.10 pm train after spending a relaxed morning and afternoon with Carolyn and the boys.

There had been no vote in the Commons that evening, but I wanted to pop in on the Strangers’ bar anyway to see friends and colleagues, some of whom I hadn’t seen since the start of the recess. The sympathy at what had happened was encouraging and touching, as was the invariable expression of indignation at the unfairness of it. I was determined to be philosophical: these things have happened before and they will happen again.

But when it came to going home time, I received another shock to the system: I had no ministerial car to drop me at my flat. It had been two years since I had had to make my own way home; would I know the way by myself? Should I phone my old driver, Bob, and ask him for directions?

But the Harrises are nothing if not resourceful and I managed to get safely home. But the next morning, emerging from the flat after an unaccustomed long lie, I instinctively looked round for the familiar brown Mondeo. My heart sank when I realised it was never going to be there again.

It’s not a particularly long walk into the Commons from where I live in Pimlico, and I found myself enjoying the “fresh” air of central London as I contemplated the day ahead. A normal day at the Department for Transport (DfT) would have started with breakfast at the Commons followed by back-to-back meetings at Great Minster House, the odd set-piece speech somewhere in London or even a ministerial visit outside London. From first meeting to last vote would regularly be about 13 or 14 hours. Today I didn’t even have to look at my diary to see what lay ahead of me now: breakfast, office time, meeting with my researcher, office time, lunch with blogger Iain Dale, coffee with a journalist, office time…

Sometime soon I will get back into a back bench routine, but in the immediate aftermath of being sacked, it’s hard to adjust to a regime where your time isn’t ruthlessly carved up by a small army of efficient civil servants.

I will miss that “small army” immensely. I had four full-time members of my ministerial private office. I could also rely on a much bigger army of DfT officials whose advice and knowledge was impressive and daunting.

My former private secretary, Rachel, phoned me to discuss tying up “loose ends”. I didn’t fancy going back into the department, at least not yet. So she met me in Central Lobby of the Houses of Parliament and I reluctantly handed over the keys to my red box and my departmental security pass. I returned to my office in the upper committee corridor divested of the final vestiges of ministerial authority.

The most common theory put forward for my sacking is, inevitably, my blog, And another thing... In some ways, this is comforting: no-one really believes I was bad at my job so there must be another reason, and the blog is a prime suspect, especially after the whole “Why is everyone so bloody miserable?” debacle.

I started it in March this year because I was concerned that right wing blogs like Iain Dale’s and Guido Fawkes’s were dominating the market, and I felt there weren’t enough Labour voices out there.

Few people were even aware I wrote a blog until “Why is everyone so bloody miserable” was published in June. What started off as a fairly thoughtful piece about the difficulty of achieving happiness in a material world was twisted by a Conservative front bencher to try to make it look like I was belittling people’s real difficulties in coping with the current economic climate. I found myself having to defend and explain what I had written to hostile journalists and broadcasters. It was a sharp reminder that, even if the public aren’t reading what ministers blog, journalists and political opponents are.

Even then, I received no criticism from No. 10; my boss at the time, Ruth Kelly, simply asked how I was coping with the media scrum.

And you can go over my posts with a fine tooth comb and you won’t find anything there that’s off-message or critical of government policy.

But I hope the blog wasn’t the reason for my sacking. I wouldn’t like to think that any minister who makes a serious attempt to have a dialogue with voters, who tries to communicate Labour’s agenda to the public and who (God help us) makes jokes at his own expense is immediately regarded as a loose canon. Surely voters prefer their politicians to sound as if they’re at least familiar with the planet Earth? And what’s more off-putting than a minister who sounds as if he’s reciting a Labour Party press release he’s memorised an hour earlier?

I’m not naïve; I know that there are some senior politicians who don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate for a minister to write about what his favourite karaoke performances are (“Home” by Michael Bublé and “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors), or who he thinks will win The X-Factor (Austin), or to write a review of the entire fourth season of Doctor Who (best yet – better to come).

And I’m sure not everyone in the Labour Party thinks I should publish comments from readers of my blog which are critical of me, the government or the party.

But I genuinely believe that blogs can and will be an important part of the political debate in this country in the future. And I happen to think that ministers, as well as ordinary party members, should be saying something interesting and challenging and – yes – human to the increasing numbers who are logging on to read them.

I like to think And another thing… would have continued even if I had remained in government; it will certainly continue now that I’m not. Whether people will want to read it now that it’s written by a back bencher, and not a minister, is another matter.

But if it wasn’t the blog, and it wasn’t incompetence, then what? Politics?

The fact is, I don’t know. No-one is ever told.

And sometimes, when the music stops, there just isn’t a chair for you. It can be as simple as that and you just have to accept it.

 

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Filed under Blogging, Department for Transport, Family life, Gordon Brown, Government, Media, Parliament, Politics

Meme: can this really be happening to me?

ONCE again, über-blogger Iain Dale has nominated me with a challenge to recount events in my past where I had to pinch myself and ask: “Is this really happening?” Iain, of course, is just a big show-off and wants to brag about all the famous people he’s met. I would never do that, of course (ahem…).

1991: I joined the Labour Party entirely because of Neil Kinnock. I really idolised him. Occasionally I bump into him in the MPs’ tearoom and I want to tell him this, but I always resist, because (a) he would think it a bit naff, and (b) he has no idea who I am. Nevertheless, as a completely starstruck young press officer with the Labour Party in Scotland, I had to help organise a visit to Edinburgh by Neil as leader of the party and, I fervently hoped, our next prime minister. Can’t remember why, exactly, but I found myself having a game of pool with Neil and his son, Stephen in their hotel. Chuffed!

2002: New MPs and their spouses were invited to meet HM at Buck House. Carolyn, a sometimes republican, decided she wanted to come because she was curious to see inside the palace. “But I’m not curtseying,” she said. “Well, you can’t come then,” said I, suddenly the arch-monarchist. “You can’t accept someone’s hospitality and then refuse to obey protocol.”

“Well, I’ll nod a bit. Maybe,” she conceded. The evening arrived and even those who were pretending to be cool about the situation were failing miserably. Suddenly Carolyn and I were in a line of people waiting to meet the Queen and Prince Philip. Before realising it, there they were, right in front of us. I duly bowed, murmured something suitably obsequious and walked off. I glanced behind me to see how Carolyn was doing, worried she might stage a show of defiance. I needn’t have been concerned. I have never, in my entire life, seen anyone offer such a low and deferential curtsey. She told me later that it was almost entirely instinctive; she just couldn’t help herself when she came face to face with the monarch. It’s a pity – or perhaps a blessing – that the whole thing was being filmed, because, on leaving the Royal Presence and realising what she had just done, she swore (and it was a very bad swear word) to herself, straight into the lens of the camera.

2003: Labour conference was abuzz because Bill Clinton was around. As a junior back bencher I had virtually no chance of meeting him. But while standing in a corridor of the conference hotel waiting to get into a room where I was due to have dinner one evening, there was a flurry of activity and Bill and his entourage came walking towards me. I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass, so I stuck out my hand and said: “An honour to meet you, Mr President.” He took it and smiled and said thank you. Great. But I hadn’t noticed that right behind him was the actor, and Bill’s BFF, Kevin Spacey. So I shook his hand as well. This was turning into a great night. And then, behind Spacey was none other than Tony Blair, who smiled at me as if he might have vaguely recognised me. “Piss off, Tony, I’m speaking to Kevin,” I quipped (I didn’t really).

Okay, so I’m passing this challenge on to the following five bloggers:

Harry Barnes, Scottish Tory Boy, Scottish Unionist, Colin Byrne and Sadie out of Sadie’s Tavern.

Coming soon, my very own meme: how do you pronounce ‘meme’?

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Filed under Blogging, Family life, Labour, Politics, Whimsy

A blonde Tony Blair?

LOOKING forward to Oliver Stone’s forthcoming biopic of George W. Bush, due out in October, not least because, according to the glimpse this trailer offers, he’s decided to make Tony Blair blonde!

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Filed under Movies, Politics