Magazine article The Spectator

Actor-Manager

Magazine article The Spectator

Actor-Manager

Article excerpt

It is said that when Tony Blair was at Fettes, the distinguished Scottish public school. a decision was taken which may have affected his future thinking. Poppy Anderson, the dynamic wife of his housemaster, Eric, was planning the costumes for the forthcoming performance of Julius Caesar. For no particular reason, she decided to kit the faction of Caesar - Mark Antony and co. - in red, and the faction of the conspirators in blue. The production, so biographers attest, was a great hit, and especially the vibrant performance of the adolescent Blair in awakening the conscience of the Romans.

We can only speculate. naturally, on how this triumph affected the young man's psyche; but here was Blair's first experience of swaying the crowds by his oratory, indeed - swaying them from one strongly held position - that the murder of Caesar was a good thing - to the opposite view. Had Poppy Anderson decided to give him a good blue toga, and save the red one for Brutus, might he not have gone on to a rather different destiny? He would still have been a crowd-pleaser, a man capable of fits of passion for a cause in which he believed; but his success in the blue might have suggested subliminally to Blair that he should be a Tory, which is, after all, what his enemies in the Labour party, and some in the Tory party, believe him erroneously to be. Well, as Caesar himself remarked, the die is cast. He married Cherie, and became a Labour man, and one uncommonly gifted at manipulating his audience.

There may be thousands of witnesses who will attest that Britain's celebrations of the millennium were something of a shambles. The wheel wouldn't work. Thousands of 'VIPs and ordinary people^. in the exceedingly New Labour phrase of Lord Falconer, were left fuming outside the great tent. The river of fire, a widely advertised pyrotechnic display, was seen by nobody. Yet such is Blair's gift of persuasion that we are slowly reassessing the record.

Tony tells us it was a great success, that it was Britain at her best. a beacon to the world, and slowly we nod, reluctantly at first, and faster and faster in blissful assent.

The Daily Mail produces a picture, apparently taken from outer space, which shows that the river of fire did in fact put in an appearance. Soon we will have forgotten about the cock-ups; Labour will win the battle of history, and the night will be reclaimed as the latest theatrical sensation from Tony Blair.

This battle, for the record, about who can leave the most lasting impression on the public consciousness, is central to New Labour's methods. …

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