Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Tony Blair and I chat on his aeroplane discussing the usual accusations he faces the Left have been deceived and muzzled, the policies are vague, debate has been stifled, ideals frequently changed.... The difference is that Mr Blair is accusing me of these sins: yes, as soon as I finally agree to take informal questions from Mr Blair, against the advice of my spin doctors, the Labour leader at once assails me for the very sins for which New Labour is usually attacked. 'I heard you stitched up the Spice Girls in your Spectator piece', he says, `into saying they were Thatcherites,' and he goes on to accuse me of suppressing the Spice Girl Left, stifling political debate among Spice Girls and claiming that their policies were interchangeable with those of the Tories. `They've been denying they were Tories ever since,' Mr Blair says. For the record, Mr Blair's negative campaigning against me is an outright lie, more grievous than Labour's pensions scare: the girls have simply restated that my original interview says they were 'a political coalition' with three Tories and two Labour. I, like everyone else, am weary of those dear Spice Girls. But alas, for Mr Blair I have no other raison d'etre: I exist purely as a purveyor of Spice. Certainly, voters are uninterested in the Spice Girls as an issue. Yet politicians keep raising it- especially Mr Blair, and for a sinister reason. This `modern man of my generation' suggested that people should vote for him because he knows more Sixties pop-song lyrics than Mr Major. Actually such banal Sixties nostalgia qualifies him for a television pop-quiz panel rather than Downing Street. Then Mr Blair priggishly uses his knowledge of the names of the Spice Girls and other pop trivia to advocate his policy of 'modernisation' for its own sake. Yet there is no morality in mere modernity. His sole argument for devolution and reforming the Lords, for example, is 'modernisation': the constitutional equivalent of knocking down old houses to build hideous Sixties tower blocks. What the rise of Mr Blair and his contrived references to the Beatles and Spice Girls really herald is the return of the vandal curse of the Sixties.

Nonetheless, I liked shooting the breeze with Tango Bravo, as the Special Branch calls him. What's he like? I keep remembering Bismarck on Napoleon III: 'a sphinx without a riddle'. Yet he does not feel phoney or superficial in person. I have no doubt. he believes he believes. Despite his dislike of electioneering and lack of John Major's common touch, I divine Blair relishes repartee with members of his own class - his own spin doctors, even the odd journalist. Excitable, highly tuned, he is playful and fun to fence with. But he is also exceedingly nervous, vigilant, wily in a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed way: I admire foxes and wolves. When we were talking, Tango Bravo reminded me most of an alert, skittish vixen. I spot one glimpse of apprehension about power. `Don't you feel sorry for John Major, beleaguered by his own party?' I ask. Tango shrugs, twinkling triumphantly. So I add, `You should sympathise, Mr Blair, it could start happening to you next week!' `No it won't,' he replies like quicksilver. But then a rare expression crosses his face - human frailty - as he remembers his barbaric backbenchers, his Cabinet of dinosaurian socialists. `Or at least,' he muses, `it won't happen to me in the same way or over the same issue. …

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