Saturday 3 December 2016

Blair ready to write a new chapter

The former British prime minister has distilled lessons from the North and moved on, writes John-Paul McCarthy

Published 05/09/2010 | 05:00

The fates have not been especially kind to former British prime ministers. Asquith, Eden and Heath lingered on in a kind of thwarted limbo more akin to grief than retirement, while others had their memories involuntarily wiped as the ageing process proved more powerful than sovereign, cabinet and parliament combined. Mrs Thatcher is today wreathed in a pitiless dementia, a victim of the same fate that wrecked Harold Wilson's prodigious brain after 1976. Clement Attlee and John Major happily relinquished their respective crowns, and their genial selflessness was, and is, rewarded by long and happy retirements.

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The man I met in the Shelbourne hotel this weekend seems already part of the Attlee-Major club, happy to press on with new business, new experiences and new challenges. Tony Blair ably diverted my relentlessly parochial questions onto the Middle East, which he now calls home -- ever more anxious to show that he was sincere when he said that Downing Street might have demoralised him, but it was not about to define him.

Though the two trademarks of the Blair persona were front and centre -- the Cheshire cat smile came and went, and those bony hands did their thing -- he was extraordinarily authentic. There was no discernible gap between the policies as I had come to understand them, the person I've been watching since I was 16, and the memoir that had consumed my working week. He still loves Bertie Ahern -- as much for his EU Presidency as for anything else -- he still thinks that many contemporary socialists are malevolently obsessed with Israel; and he still thinks the world is a dangerous place.

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