So I was on my way to Downing Street to see the prime minister at his behest. [If you’re lost at this point, wandering like child who has slipped the hand of their guardian at the fair ground then you may find it helps to read the first half of this post: Two phone or not two phone, but then again it may not.]
I exited Westminster tube and walked towards Downing Street. I was curious about the possible reason for the call it really was unlike Tony to call on the weekend. I got to the gate and showed my pass to the guard. I used to be allowed to go in without one but with all of the extra security these days the guards don’t know who anyone is anymore.
Henry on the door was still there though. I wondered, at first to myself and then out loud to him if he could possibly work twenty four hours a day seven days a week.
“I’m off when he’s off, ” he shrugged, “I work when he works.”
“Tough gig,” I said.
“It’s the way it’s always been. I get time off when he’s traveling.”
He waved me in and I was in the hall. I waited for Jennifer or somebody to pick me up. I doesn’t do to wander around. The hall was as busy as ever. People in and out of rooms and noises. I’d always found that it was busier in the night or the weekend in the hall. Because in the week day every one is in meetings.
Jennifer poked her head round the door.
“Hello Alex, good to see you.”
“Is he ready for me or should I wait?”
“No, no he’s ready for you now.”
I walked through behind her, through her ante room and stopped behind her while she knocked on the door and heralded me. Tony called, “Yes” and I went in.
“Good morning Mr Blair”.
“Good morning Alex, it’s really good to see you. Sorry to disturb your weekend.”
“Come in sit down.”
I quickly took in the room which was as immaculate as always. I have always wondered if this was always the case. People trust the advice I give them but they don’t always trust me. I deal with many people who would love to get hold of a look at the current papers on Tony Blair’s desk. I however am not one of them. But do they know that? I’m not always sure.
I chose my usual chair and Tony sat back down behind his desk.
“Do you fancy a drink?”
“No I’m fine,” I answered, “But please go ahead, you look like you need one.”
“Thanks,” he said, “you always seem to look calm. How do you do it?”
“Well I’m an advisor, I don’t actually have any responsibility.”
“But… You… You are THE advisor. Everyone listens to you. What you say actually happens. You can even get cross party support for things.”
“It’s not my fault if people do what I say. It’s theirs. And I can get everything done. I can’t change everything can I?”
“You’re going to chide me about Iraq again aren’t you.”
“No. Well… I was just using it to make a point.”
Tony finally stood up and walked over to his drinks cabinet.
“It always happens though doesn’t it. Whenever I think I know better. Whenever I ignore your advice. You are always proved right in the most spectacular ways.”
“Don’t read anything into that Alex. I know you want to. But take it from me I still know George and I did the right thing even though it wasn’t the popular thing. You just knew before anyone else that it wasn’t going to be popular.”
“Were you ready for the hanging?” I asked, because I never really liked to talk about how other people thought I worked.
Tony didn’t respond. He took the question as a pause and opened the drinks cabinet. He had to have known I was going to ask about it, so the fake deliberation and thinking face were somewhat lost on me.
“Are you going to have a drink or not?” he asked this as he poured what could only be described as a giant scotch for himself.
“Go on then. I’ll have a Scottish single malt if you have one.”
“You know I had considered buying some just for you. But still I couldn’t bring myself to ask someone to change the order.”
“I’ll have an Irish then – of course.”
In his kitchen in Shoreditch it had always been Scottish, and just after he arrived in Downing Street it all changed. It was the first thing that hinted to the rift. Of course the rift was patched up so many years ago now you would think that he’d go back to the Scottish. But whether it was that he had simply become accustomed to the taste, or if it was all part of his implementation of my strategy – to allow the British public to feel they could vote for Gordon because if Tony hated him and preferred David then it would make people think Gordon must be doing something right – I don’t know. Maybe he was just keeping up the pretence everywhere, just in case.
“So?” I looked up quizzically, as if you say, “you summoned me”, and he got the idea without me actually having to say it.
“It’s this damn investigation. They seem to just keep getting closer and closer.”
“The honours probe?”
“Yes. I mean, everyone knows what happened, everyone understands it. Why can’t we all move on from this.”
“The problem is Tony this is the Police. They work differently than everyone else. You’ve spent your whole political career on the most important thing a politician can ever do, on creating the right impression and now unfortunately you’ve come up against a brick wall. A wall which is looming over you if you can endure the unusual metaphor. In a straight fight between you and any other politician I’ve ever met, I’ve never found somebody as adapt at turning a loosing hand into a winner by pure bluff. It’s the most important skill a politician can have if they want to stay elected. But Iraq and this are different. There are laws here. There are deaths here. The only difference that the anti-war protestors are all dancing around is the fact that you can do what you like when it comes to war, you have ultimate power in this country for war. They can’t really win. But with this honours business, it’s much harsher. The law is simple and unavoidable. You can’t simply deflect it.”
“But every party has always done it. They’ve all done it despite the law, why are they coming after me?”
“Because Tony, people simply don’t like you.”
“But why? I had to make tough choices and I did them for the good of Britain”
“No you didn’t not all of them”
“What are you saying? I knew people, British people, would die in Iraq. But no war is without casualties. And if you’re saying I didn’t know it was going to be unpopular then you’re forgetful. Of course I knew. You sat right there and told me.”
“But you went and did it anyway.”
“That’s right. I had to, it was the right thing to do even if the people didn’t see it.”
“It was the first time that you really showed that you truly were still old Labour.”
I paused to take a sip of the whisky. He didn’t start speaking.
“That ‘mother knows best’ attitude seemed so ill fitting on you that day. You this man who had come from nowhere on a wave of popular opinion. You took the old nanny state mentality and decided on war. It wasn’t your style. Because you know, or at least you used to know, that the popular voice was the thing that got you where you were. That the popular voice was what rules the country. In every previous tough choice situation you had gone out to court the public, to convince them to come along for the ride. And every time it had worked. Why did you do it if when they still said no you you were going to do it anyway?”
“I’ve asked myself this. I really have. I thought I heard yes. I knew it was weak. But I thought it had just tipped towards us. And I thought that every day we were at war the support would grow. Look what happened to Margaret. No one thought she’d do it but it saved her career.”
“But you forgot something.”
“You forgot to tell people what winning looked like. Margaret had a result that everyone could agree on.”
“I know. I know that now.”
He stood up and walked with his empty glass back over to the drinks cabinet. He looked back at me and eyed my near full glass with what looked almost, for a second, contempt. He put his glass down and walked back to his seat.
“But that wasn’t what I was saying,” I said, “I was going to talk about allying your self with Bush. That wasn’t for Britain. That was for you. Clinton was your president. Not Bush.”
Well I was going to say more today, but now I’ll have to wait until some more comes out about Lord Levy. Check back next week for more.