Magazine article The Spectator

Blair vs. Brown - an Epic Feud That Homer Would Have Been Proud Of

Magazine article The Spectator

Blair vs. Brown - an Epic Feud That Homer Would Have Been Proud Of

Article excerpt

The Observes serialisation of Mr Andrew Rawnsley's new book about the government tells how the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have not got on. We knew that already. But that was the point. That we knew it already was why we read on. The first audience for Homer or the Greek dramatists also knew the plots already. What mattered was the way they told them. The Observer's version of the old Blair-Brown epic was well told. The tale will be told time and again in many forms: books, columns, on Radio Four, many times on television, probably in the end as a play.

The hates, loves, hopes and fears of our famous politicians are to us what those of the gods were to the ancients. We have to make do with the former because we do not live in a heroic age. We, the audience, long ago decided what the basic material should be. It is the reworking of that material - in the form of memoirs, television documentaries and Sunday serialisations - that we judge. We do not much like it if the story is changed radically. None of us would persist with a version which has Mr Brown and Mr Blair getting on perfectly well. Racine was able to rework the Greek material as late as the 17th century, Cocteau even later. But a new character may be added here, a new instance there, provided they do not alter the plot we know and love. Thus Mr Rawnsley, in his reworking of the ancient Blair-- Brown narrative, has a marvellous new scene: the telephoning of Mr Charlie Whelan in the Red Lion by the Prime Minister.

Mr Whelan is Mr Brown's press officer. He and Mr Brown are up to something. The details need not concern us this late in the day. They are irrelevant to myth's broad sweep, which is that Mr Blair disapproves of Mr Brown, whatever he is up to, and vice versa. Whatever it is Mr Brown and Mr Whelan have been up to - and it is something to do with government policy on the euro - it has surfaced in the first edition of the Times. Mr Mandelson, a central character in all of our civilisation's myths, alerts the Prime Minister by telephone. Mr Blair stalks his palace looking for his henchman Mr Alastair Campbell, another mythical archetype. He cannot find him. Has Mr Whelan slit Mr Campbell's throat? We are not told. Mr Blair therefore personally telephones Mr Whelan. He reaches him in the Red Lion, a mythical location hard by the Labour party's old Smith Square headquarters and therefore a place associated with Old Labour, as is Mr Whelan. Mr Blair tells Mr Whelan that the story is 'too hard'. Mr Whelan should 'row back'. Mr Whelan, busy confirming the story to various political reporters, replies that it is 'too late' to do so because the story is 'up and running'.

What may be of interest to audiences here is the willingness of a prime minister personally,to telephone Hades, and the somewhat brusque way in which Mr Whelan receives him. But my own eventual reworking of the Blair-Browniad will slightly inflate this scene, using Mr Rawnsley rather in the way that Shakespeare used Holinshed. Like the porter in Macbeth, the scene will offer the audience respite among the murders, insanity and horror.

Mr Blair, who presumably reached Mr Whelan on the latter's mobile: 'Tony here.'

Mr Whelan: 'Tony who?'

The Prime Minister: 'Tony Blair.'

Mr Whelan: 'I am not at the Treasury now. …

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