Diary: 'Fill yer boots' Blair is a letdown for Labour


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The Independent Online

Since disowning the grubby past is clearly to be the leitmotif of Labour's conference in Liverpool (see Tessa Jowell, below), my advice to Ed Miliband as he finalises tomorrow's forensic tour de force is this. Find space in the leader's speech to announce that, under the "bringing the party into disrepute" header used to expel Geoff Hoon and others last May, he is suspending Tony Blair's Labour membership pending an inquiry into his financial affairs. The insinuations about Mr Tony's Libyan dealings grow louder, with The Sunday Telegraph reporting that, in the three years after he left No 10, he secretly visited Gaddafi not twice, as previously believed, but on six occasions. The paper links one visit to the (unrealised) ambition of JP Morgan, which pays him £2m per annum for advice, to broker a huge aluminium deal between the Libyan Investment Authority and Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. Both parties firmly deny this, and who would doubt the word of either an investment bank or Mr Tony Blair? Yet the latter would agree that appearances count in politics – and that until his Byzantine commercial dealings acquire the transparency they deserve, his continuing membership of Labour cements the party to a fill-yer-boots ethos not strictly in keeping with the economic realities of today.

* Dwelling briefly on the latest, ritualistic Blair denial, his spokesman repeats that discussions in Tripoli primarily concerned Africa. This is deliciously vague, Africa being a vast continent of many countries. One, to pluck a nation at random, is Guinea Bissau, where a shared friend of Blair and Deripaska, the noble Lord Mandelson, now spends time advising president Alpha Conde; and which, by the eeriest happenstance, possesses colossal reserves of bauxite, the ore essential in the manufacture of aluminium. All of which means nothing to those of us who, unlike God and relativity dunce Albert Einstein, do believe in coincidence.

* And so to Tessa Jowell, who leads the charge of the Blairite faux apologists by likening New Labour's Murdochophilia to crack cocaine addiction. Tessa will wish to underline her recovery this week by loudly supporting Tom Watson's motion calling for James Murdoch to resign as News International chairman. This will be agony. As Culture Secretary, Tessa gave Sky exclusive rights to live domestic Test cricket after James lobbied her to renege on predecessor Chris Smith's promise that live Tests would remain on free-to-air TV. But any former addict will tell you that there can be no permanent recovery without brutal self-honesty about the indignities to which the addiction once drove them.

* I am intrigued by a rumour that David Cameron is about to appoint "Colonel" Andrew Roberts, the historian, as his Social Mobility Tsar. KFC heir Andrew grew up in a tiny flat above the Peckham branch that launched the family fortune. And just look at him now. "Bill told me ... something rather shocking about one of the Republican presidential frontrunners," he writes in the Spectator diary of President Clinton, whose 65th birthday bash at Martha's Vineyard ("Carly Simon sang for us") he attended. "Mike Bloomberg threw a party ..." "To the Waldorf Astoria to interview Dick Cheney ..." Bless him, it reads like one of those New York high society letters Jeeves wrote on a friend of Bertie Wooster's behalf. What a finger-lickin' example Andrew is that, howsoever humble the start, there need be no end to the vertical social climb.

* The Colonel is too discreet to name the Republican concerned. But if it was Rick Perry, he has bigger worries than sexual gossip. After an abysmal debate performance, Rick is in grave strife on the electability front. "It's increasingly clear he can't perform," as a rival's spokesman put it. "He has electile dysfunction." Lump the mortgage on Mitt Romney.

* Our leading highbrow critic is at it again. A week after disclaiming facetiousness in nominating Pam Ayres's claims to Oxford's chair in poetry, Roger Lewis lacerates Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. "The only way they'd get me to see it," he writes of any sequel, "is if they cast Hale and Pace. I'm not joking ..." Next week, Roger is deadly serious in demanding that Anthea Turner deliver the Reith Lectures in 2012.