The old Tony Blair made an appearance – leering grin, arched eyebrows, those messianic hands: HENRY DEEDES spots the former PM back in Parliament
He appeared almost anonymous – no red carpet, no screaming crowds, no relentless pinging of flashbulbs.
Scuttling along the polished floors of Portcullis House to give evidence to the Northern Ireland Select Committee this morning, Sir Tony Blair went all but unnoticed – except by one pimply young man who sheepishly requested a selfie. Aw. Bless.
Outside the Committee Room, the former prime minister hovered, no doubt hoping to be ushered off to some sort of VIP lounge decked out with eucalyptus towels and chilled bottles of Evian. Instead, he was forced to loiter awkwardly. Shucks. This would never happen in Washington.
Suddenly, committee chair Sir Simon Hoare arrived, ushering his guest inside like a golf club captain welcoming the local celebrity to the Christmas scramble. ‘Tony, thanks so much for coming,’ Hoare gushed. It was safe to say Blair was not about to be put through the mincer.
Scuttling along the polished floors of Portcullis House to give evidence to the Northern Ireland Select Committee this morning, Sir Tony Blair (pictured today) went all but unnoticed – except by one pimply young man who sheepishly requested a selfie
Sir Tony mustered an entourage of four – bigger than Gordon Brown’s, considerably smaller than J-Lo’s. Among them were two protection grunts – one sporting a magnificent Captain Birdseye beard whose walkie-talkie started squawking midway through proceedings. Possibly Cherie demanding to know whether Tony would be home for supper.
Otherwise, his audience for the morning was just a couple of hacks and five or so members of the public. And to think, time was when he could have sold out this sort of venue twice over.
Old Tony had the tanned, slightly shrivelled look of a Californian raisin. The voice has gone a touch reedy but the old Blair mannerisms were still there – the leering grin, the arched eyebrows, those messianic hand movements.
Hoare spent much of the session glazing Blair in honey. Twice he praised his ‘bravery, leadership and courage’. This was truly next-level toadying. Nor was Sir Simon the only one.
Claire Hanna (SDLP, Belfast S) flattered and fawned over Blair like a starstruck teenager. Young thruster Robin Walker (Con, Worcester) looked as though he had fallen under some sorcerer’s trance.
The only vague challenge to Blair’s God-like authority came from the Democratic Unionists. Jim Shannon (DUP, Strangford) wearily eyeballed Blair then proceeded to ask a question which seemed to go on for, oh, a good five minutes. Eventually, Hoare had to interrupt, as though silencing some doddery aunt prattling on about her pet poodle’s daily digestive cycle.
Carla Lockhart (DUP, Upper Bann) asked about the ‘on-the-run’ scheme – the now infamous letters that the Blair government sent to dissident republicans assuring them they would not be prosecuted. Lockhart described them as ‘get-out-of-jail-free cards.’ Blair huffily replied he’d already gone into the matter with the committee years ago. It was in the past, ancient history – let’s move on.
Seeing the old performer’s mood shift so suddenly like that brought it all flooding back – the tetchiness, the elevated sense of boredom when he doesn’t like the question. Hoare clearly didn’t enjoy seeing his star guest being embarrassed, and swiftly changed the subject.
Later, Sir Robert Buckland (Con, S Swindon) accused Hoare of trying to cut him off when he raised the ‘on-the-run’ issue. ‘I was trying to make progress!’ Sir Simon protested.
Jim Shannon (pictured today) wearily eyeballed Blair then proceeded to ask a question which seemed to go on for, oh, a good five minutes. Eventually, Hoare had to interrupt, as though silencing some doddery aunt prattling on about her pet poodle’s daily digestive cycle
Hanna enquired with almost child-like zeal how her party could make itself more electable. But Blair insisted he had a cardinal rule never to give advice to political parties. Heavens, no! Not unless they write him humungous cheques like all those iffy foreign governments seeking his words of wisdom.
‘Can’t you give in to temptation?’ pleaded Hoare. Pretty pleeeaasse!
Final observation on Blair. Does he even consider himself British these days? From the way he spoke yesterday, he seems to now regard us as an irrelevant little island that he’d long since outgrown.
Of the new Windsor framework on Northern Ireland, he insisted ‘the European Union want this to work. There’s a lot of good will.’ He seemed to imply: ‘The EU are my people now.’
It was odd, too, that a former prime minister of the United Kingdom felt the need on several occasions to remind the committee he was a unionist.
After 90 minutes, Hoare called time. Hanna and Mary Kelly Foy (Lab, Durham) rushed over and nobbled Blair for more selfies. Hoare lingered, hopeful of touching the maestro’s cloak just one last time. All in all, a revolting spectacle.
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