At 50, a Politician's Thoughts Turn to Rebranding

Article excerpt

Back, then, to the home front, and with a big birthday to celebrate as well. At his monthly press conference yesterday, Tony Blair faced questions not just on Iraq, as he has been doing for months now, but on the plethora of other issues that he must now focus on once again. One enquiry, though, Mr Blair treated with grinning disdain. It concerned his 50th birthday, and Mr Blair was at pains to emphasise that this minor distraction was not of importance to him.

Perhaps it isn't. But it is certainly of importance to those around him. Mr Blair's older brother, Bill, has given his first press interview in order to mark it, alongside some childhood snaps from the Blair family album. For good measure, Bill reminded us of Mr Blair's tough childhood, his father's stroke, his mother's early death, and his ghastly, old-fashioned education at that top private school, Fettes College

Rankin, the photographer who founded Dazed And Confused magazine, has taken a beautiful 50th birthday portrait of Blair in all his solemn maturity, which appeared on the cover of the Financial Times magazine, alongside the cover line "The Believer", flagging an admiring interview. Next, The Times will publish a series of articles based on the "unparalleled access" that has been awarded to its former editor Peter Stothard.

To this huge outbreak of up-close-and-personal revelation must be added that which has come before us already. We now know that Mr Blair, with his whacking majority, and the Tories behind him, still felt the need to tell his family that he might be out of a job if he didn't win backing for the war from Parliament. Alongside that piece of self-aggrandising flim-flam, we've also been told, from the Prime Minister's own lips, that he found it very comforting that the war passed Leo by, and also very comforting that Euan called him almost every night from Bristol to reassure his father that he was doing the right thing.

The obvious point here is that once again Mr Blair has invaded the privacy of his children to suit himself. There are other points as well, of course. One is that the Iraqi three-year-olds still dying of diarrhoea don't have a clue what's going on either, beyond their own pain and illness.

Another is that this Euan Blair will be the same one, will it, who was a mother's baby, and couldn't be allowed to leave home without a flat being bought for him? That's quite something, when in Britain we don't abide by the UN convention against child soldiers, so that we can continue to recruit children into the armed forces at 16.

If we abided by the convention, they wouldn't be fully trained, and therefore wouldn't be able to go into active combat at 18. But we don't, so against internationally agreed guidelines, we do have the luxury of sending boys younger than Euan into war zones. Yesterday, one of them, Kelan Turrington, was buried. His family asked for donations to charities helping children in Iraq, instead of flowers.

It would be something to believe, as so many people close to Blair are telling us, that the Prime Minister really has emerged from the war as a "different political animal". For many, this is a scary idea, given plausibility by the publication of a Labour pamphlet drawn up by Peter Mandelson, and indicating that Blair will attempt to swing his party further to the right.

But actually, the pamphlet, from the contents that have been leaked, simply reiterates what has been clear for some years. Foundation hospitals, user charges, tuition fees, all remain on the agenda.

Exactly whether this has real intellectual underpinning, or is just a series of attempts to balance the books, remains uncertain. All of these can be interpreted as being part of a move away from the Big State, but in so many other ways, Blair's Big State - with its targets, its tests, its bureaucracy, and its central accountability, keeps getting bigger. …