Magazine article The Spectator

This Is All about Don Tony: And It's Personal, Not Business

Magazine article The Spectator

This Is All about Don Tony: And It's Personal, Not Business

Article excerpt

Matthew d'Ancona says that the Jowell Affair has revealed the loneliness of New Labour's once-omnipotent Godfather, as the Cameron and Brown families prepare for their own bloody turf war when he is gone

One evening at dinner with Tessa Jowell and David Mills, Tony Blair spotted an unsightly paint stain outside their Kentish Town house.

The Culture Secretary explained that antiwar protesters had discovered her address, and had poured out the paint to signal their disgust. Mr Blair shook his head. 'Do people really do things like that?' he asked.

Yes, Prime Minister, they do. But one of the many things he and Ms Jowell have in common is a distaste for ugliness: they like things to be just so, for decorum to be observed. And it baffled Mr Blair that anyone should resort to such vulgar behaviour to make a political point, even when the issue was one as divisive as the Iraq war.

It is hard to exaggerate how closely allied Ms Jowell and the Prime Minister have been during the New Labour era. The strength of their partnership is one of the underreported facts of politics in the past 12 years - an omission which has pleased them.

They are carved from the same timber, these two politicians: north London, Christian, incorrigibly middle-class. Much more than Tony and Gordon, or even Tony and Peter, Tony and Tessa speak the same language, experience the same sentiments, inhabit the same moral and aesthetic universe. Others - Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell - have been more influential in the day-to-day development of New Labour strategy, and have spent more time with Mr Blair, bending his ear and writing his lines. But Ms Jowell has been a confidante of a different order, and the best kind:

one who does not boast about the fact.

It was she, more than any other Cabinet minister, who urged the Prime Minister not to resign in 2004, not to give in to the Chancellor; only Mr Blair's wife was more influential in this campaign of persuasion.

On the day of the European and local elections in June of that year, he phoned her from the G8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia, to thank her. When her brother died of cancer a few months later, Mrs Blair was on hand to take her to tea in New York, and to pass her over to the Prime Minister on her mobile. Most recently, it was Ms Jowell who convinced him to gamble on the Olympics - and delivered. Hours after that triumph, he deputed her to comfort the families bereaved by the 7 July atrocities.

So her ordeal in the past fortnight has been more painful for the Prime Minister than any assault upon his court apart from 'Cheriegate' itself. His reassurances to the Culture Secretary have not been routine in character: they have been emphatic, angry, contra mundum in spirit. He knows that Ms Jowell has been his alter ego in what is really an attack upon him. And, these days, there are not many bodies left to take a bullet on his behalf.

'I never thought I'd say this, ' a loyalist Labour MP told me, 'but we really have reached the bunker stage of the Blair years.'

It is a predictable image: the last, doomed loyalists huddling around their demented leader, handing out medals to children, as the sound of approaching gunfire draws closer by the hour.

Yet the analogy is not quite right. What is happening to the Prime Minister and his circle more closely resembles the fading of a Mafia family. In his den in Downing Street, the Don of New Labour sits and broods like Al Pacino in the last, unforgettable scene of The Godfather Part II.

'One by one, our old friends are gone, ' Johnny Ola muses to Michael Corleone earlier in the film. 'Death - natural or not - prison, deported.' So it has been for Mr Blair as he has watched his capos being picked off, or politically crippled. Mandelson, Campbell, Blunkett, Milburn, Byers: they have all been taken out, some of them twice.

The Blair famiglia still controls most of the action in Westminster and Whitehall, the rackets and the numbers. …

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