Wednesday, September 13, 2006

World leader count: 1½

After my dalliance with Thabo Mbeki in Germany, I was close to upping my world leader count to 2 this past weekend. But I have to leave it at 1½, as I was in the same room as the world leader, but didn't have any direct contact with him. I saw Tony Blair deliver the Progress 10-year anniversary speech. Tony Blair is the king of the "worst week ever" tag. Too often it's been said he's reached the end, but the man walks on hot coals for sport.

Last week, junior members (Brownites presumably) of his government signed a letter asking him to step down, and seven resigned from the government as well. Hence Teflon Tony was forced to announce his departure date, within a year, or May 31 as the Sun reported.

The speech was set to be his first public appearance since being forced to make the announcement. I've seen Tony Blair on television. The man is a performer, and on that stage on Saturday, he performed. After a hearty, almost nostalgic welcome, his first sentence was, "and I haven't even gone yet." He was humorous, affable, statesmanlike even. None of the blows inflicted during the week appeared to have wounded him fatally. The man stood tall, addressed his faithful, oozing that Tony magic which brought in the first Labour government for 18-years in 1997. They don't call him Reagan's original moniker, the Great Communicator, for nothing.

He walked to the microphone, tieless, in a grey shirt and suit. The clapping and standing ovations began. I'm cynical about politics. I know how they work, and this was another chance for me, as a journalist, to sneer at them. A woman sitting almost directly in front of me must have been a strategic clapper. One of those instructed by the spin doctors to applaud at certain points during a speech, triggering other strategic clappers, and infecting the whole room. Try resisting to clap when the person next to you is trying to dislodge their hands with the ferocity of their applause. It is difficult. Or try remaining seated when everyone around you is giving the Prime Minister a standing ovation.

On his way out, walking through the aisle near where I was sitting, he shook hands and waved. Most people sitting on an aisle seat shooks hands with Bambi himself, most people wanted to. At the very back of the hall, a woman was standing with her hands by her side. And as Tony got to her, it was obvious she had no intention of shaking Tony's hand. But Tony, ever the baby kissing, people hugging statesman, grabbed the limply dangling hand and shook it with vigour. I laughed my head off. It wouldn't do his current credibility any good if he was seen to receive a snub from an audience packed with his faithful.

It felt like being present while history was being made. He had just announced that he was leaving, he was en route to being jeered at in Beirut, staged walk out at the TUC. It was probably the week that something fatal stuck to Tony's teflon. If he is forced to leave at Labour's annual conference, that would be the fatal blow, but it seems unlikely.

Such gatherings are attended by the media élite and politerati. Adam Boulton of Sky News stood with his camera team, and Steve Richards of the Indy sat on one of the back rows observing from a healthy distance. Brian Hanrahan walked around with a microphone and minidisc recorder, quizzing politicians.

The corridors of power had shrunk with so many politicians in one place. Former Bethnal Green and Bow MP, Oona King, dressed in her usual Hoxton chic way; Sadiq Khan and Dawn Butler, 2005 intake London MPs both, sat next to each other. Defence Secretary, Des Browne, arrived in his official Jag, all worthy and mighty. Hilary Benn spoke at one of the seminars, and one could see his zeal for International Development. He says he's "a Benn, not a Bennite", detaching himself from his father's radical legacy. Yup, he's no Bennite.

People have very strong feelings about Tony Blair. He has dominated the British political scene for more than a decade, straddling it like Major Kong riding on a bomb at the end of Dr Strangelove. British politics will not be the same without him, for better or worse.


Anonymous said...

I hate Toni Blair. the way i potentially hate an ex who wronged me when i know it could have been perfect. Blair and Brown reshaped the political landscape of this country like nothing this country has ever seen. they took the bull by the horns and gave us all what we wanted. social security, a consumer economy, affordable housing, the strongest pound in decades, and then somewhere along the line, they let the presentation get ahead of the substance and it all came crashing down...shame. I used to like him, in fact, somewhere down there, i still do, i just can't help but not trust him anymore. i've never ever liked a politician before - he just sold the "honest tony" persona soooo well. shame he's got to go...Brown will fail...even though we should love substance over style, people vote for style which is why that muppet is the tori leader and not hague (i'm partial to wee willy as well). i've got no respect for brown. i've got no respect for politics anymore. damn them all.
point of correction - teflon isnt the material that bulletproof vests are made from. i'm guessing you're referring to 50's "...teflon on my chest..." line. well, aparently we've all been taking that line out of context. check this out:

Nkem said...

Yeah, not bullets perhaps. Revised it. John Gotti was called the Teflon Don because none of the charges ever stuck.

William Hague, eh? Lots of people like him. He's a good performer.

Jeremy said...

Blair is/was the consummate actor, with an expensively educated lawyer's gift of the sophist gab. He is the perfect politician for the Society of the Spectacle. I watched him coming from the early 1990's on Question Time etc. I watched him say that anyone who went to war without a second UN resolution should definitely resign (he didnt).

He will be despised not just for the blood on his hands in Iraq and Lebanon, but also because he weakened the European project of creating a less oppositional inter-regional foreign policy. He did not listen when one and a half million people marched against the war (I was there).

He will be hated for his hamfisted approach to education and health, surely the two areas a Labour government should be strong at.

It is a sad day when an unproven Tory pretender is seen to be full of fresh ideas, while the left tears itself to pieces. We've been here before. Blair has to sacrifice his vanity and leave sooner rather than later, otherwise they'll gift the Tories the next election.. but there has to be a leadership competition - Brown is just as unproven as Cameron.

Anonymous said...

English politics, very strange.

Blair's a brilliant rhetor, whatever one thinks about him. Certainly never more so than when he's speaking next to my President Bush (alas).

Anonymous said...

i think you mean British politics my dear Fred. Blair is a brilliant rhetor, but apparently, word on the street is that nobody...absolutely nobody can hold a debate with william Hague. if the guy was a tad more "presentable" labour would have a problem...alas everyone still remembers Thatcher and Major...for now. so wee willy is resigned to whatever he does in the shadow cabinet.
Me, a yoruba man with my H factor, can still manage to sound like the queen with a dictionary next to your president bush. Trrrrr.

Anonymous said...

Hehe... if you want to sound like the queen, you're welcome to, Delot. I just didn't know you were into that sort of thing.