I have been reading of the publication of the Tony Blair autobiography and the furore that has arisen. I met Tony Blair only once and had a conversation with him for about 15 minutes one October night in 1990 when Blair was Shadow Home Secretary. I had been asked by Wigan Constituency Labour party to participate at the 11th hour in an annual public speaking competition involving the four constituencies that made up Wigan MBC. I had little time to prepare and cobbled something from a Fabian Society pamphlet on German Reunification and whether we should fear it.
The event which Blair and the local MP Ian McCarney were due to judge was in Platt Bridge Labour Club.It was based in a run down area of Wigan and prone to vandalism. There were only three of us in the end. Worsley CLP did not show and I was up against two women from Makerfield and Leigh who were to talk about Wigan Social Services and Wigan education respectively.
I went off last and droned on for several minutes when my speech was interrupted by an almighty crash on the fire door. “There are Germans trying to break in”,I quipped much to the amusement of the people in the room. My joke and speech did not carry the day and I ended behind the woman who spoke on Social services who beat the education contribution.
I spoke to Blair afterwards as I was going for the Staffordshire Moorlands nomination later in the autumn and I asked his advice. I cannot recall it but I got the impression that he was an utterly charming man and sensed that he had honed acting skills.
Incidentally a year before I met with Gordon Brown and found him shy.
My next contact with Team Blair was in April 1997 when he spoke at Kidsgrove Town Hall and I and Rachel Annand knocked together a local brief for Blair prior to coming to North Staffs. I don’t think that anything was used but in a packed Kidsgrove Town Hall made the more surreal because I was sitting close to the American writer Gore Vidal, Blair performed his stuff. Of course things were tightly controlled and I can distinctly recall Charlotte Atkins the Labour candidate for the Moorlands rolling her eyes when someone for Fathers for Justice got through and asked an unplanted question.
The truth of the matter is that I never bought into the New Labour Project. I strongly objected to the removal of Clause 4 in 1994 and was always resistant to the policies that Blair and his acolytes were pushing. In the summer of 1997 Mandelson came to Stafford and spoke in the County Council chamber and number of New Labour numpties were planted in the various groups which was debating education policy and some of us were getting agitated by the distinctly pro market direction that some of the groups were going.
The years since 1997 have convinced me that the huge majorities that the party had a glorious opportunity which it missed. I always had this suspicion that it was a watered down form of Thatcherism without the iconoclastic element that the Tories had in the 80s. Blair was never interested in challenging the social hierarchy and the subsequent years have proved evidence of that.
As he said in the Marr interview he believed that he was a man of principle. I answering this as I am busy reading Thomas Paine . I am tempted to quote Paine on George Washington
“he world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles or whether you ever had any.”[