Much has been made of Tony Blair's "admission" that it was a "mistake" to announce his intention to step down before the next election. Speculation divides as to whether he meant it was a mistake to contemplate early retirement or merely an error to have told the press. I don't necessarily agree with either interpretation. I have an idea it might be one of those moments of petulance that occasionally escape from behind the prime ministerial facade of self-control; what he meant was: "I decided to answer a question. Maybe that was a mistake." (Translation: "Maybe you'd rather I didn't answer questions at all. Maybe you'd prefer it if I avoided the question altogether. Or gave an answer to an entirely different question. Or just said the first thing that came into my head." All of which, we might reasonably object, he does anyway.) But eight years of being prime minister, plus a 19-hour flight to Australia, can give rise to testiness. I remember John Major's tart response to criticism that he failed to protect the Kurds from Saddam's fury after Operation Desert Storm. "I do not recall asking the Kurds to mount this particular insurrection," he bristled, disingenuously.
As it is, with the full benefit of hindsight, Blair may feel it was a mistake that he answered a couple of parliamentary questions about the honours system earlier in this session--or at least that he gave the answers that he did. In January, the indefatigable Norman Baker asked Blair "whether he plans to a) review and b) reform the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925". Blair's reply was: "No." (Not surprisingly, as we have discovered. And interestingly, in the light of his current zeal to improve the system.)
Even more interesting is Blair's reply to a question from Gordon Prentice last November, asking the Prime Minister--get this--"what account he takes of the record of donation to political parties of persons he is minded to recommend for elevation to the peerage; and if he will make a statement". Blair repeated his mantra that "the fact of having made a political donation should not in itself [sic] exclude the appointment to a peerage where the candidate's experience or achievements justify one", adding, "The House of Lords appointments commission, who carry out the scrutiny of candidates, is given information [sic], where relevant, about political donations. …