Tony the Lonely

The Spectator, November 11, 2000 | Go to article overview

Tony the Lonely


It seems likely that Tony and Cherie went to bed on Tuesday night, in common with most other observers in this country, after Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois had all 'declared' for Al Gore. One imagines that there was a friskiness about them as they scampered upstairs, a lightness in the heart. It is not just the symbolism that matters in the Democrat-Labour alignment, or the old wives' tale that there is a symmetry between Republican victories in Washington, and Conservative victories in London. For the past eight years there has been a growing skein of connections between Tony and Bill, and their respective teams. It began with Jonathan Powell, the No. 10 chief of staff, who made his number with Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal, Clinton's aide, while Powell was posted to the UK's Washington embassy. The relationship has since blossomed into a mutual admiration society of sometimes embarrassing intensity.

When Tony is in difficulties over Northem Ireland, Clinton can be relied on to fly in and announce how Irish he feels, on one occasion breaking the ice with Sinn Fein by shaking hands with Gerry Adams. And when Bill was embroiled with Monica Lewinsky, it was Tony, alone of all the Western leaders, who hastened to the side of his stricken counterpart, and buoyed him up. They were Achilles and Patroclus, David and Jonathan, Batman and Robin, Wallace and Gromit. If Blair had a slightly better command of the moral fervour, Clinton had the peerless political brain. It was Clinton, whose 1992 victory preceded Blair's by five years, who really pioneered the distinctive features of Blairism: the broad endorsement of market capitalism, combined with an overt and shameless ability to feel your pain. Indeed, some students of physiognomy have noted that Blair eerily mimics Clinton's most distinctive facial expression, the slight thrusting forward of the lower jaw, pushing out the underlie and puckering the chin, which seems intended to convey a kind of mock humility.

So when Tony and Cherie and the rest of us called it a day on Tuesday, the outcome showed every sign of being wholly satisfactory for the Labour party, and for the Democrats.

It is with some pleasure, therefore, that one imagines their shock the following morning. Not Bush! One can almost hear the squawk in the Downing Street bedroom, as Cherie turned on the Today programme. Not that bumbling, buzzard-faced right-winger, she (almost certainly) spluttered. One can imagine how outlandish Mr Bush must seem to New Labour, with his Reaganesque commitment to cutting taxes and easing the burden on middle-income groups, in a country that already enjoys much lower levels of tax than this one does. …

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