Blair: The farewell tour 2007

Tony Blair wants history to be his judge - and now we know that the last days of his premiership are to be marked by a farewell tour of the UK, how might that be remembered and recorded? John Walsh and Paul Vallely compile a scrapbook of touching moments that no loyal subject will want to be without
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Indy Politics

EPILOGUE: INSIDE NUMBER 10 (The Blair Years, by Philip Gould)

He sat in the Throne Room at Number 10 and brooded. Nobody could remember when the little ante-chamber beside the Cabinet boardroom had first been given that name, but it was probably about the time the Daily Mirror had leaked a memo outlining Operation Stand Down. The electric wall-clock said "Monday, 30 April." Tomorrow was the big day, the big anniversary, the 10-year reign, so soon to be relinquished. Ten years since the great landslide, the cheering multitudes, the up-all-night victory.... His senior advisers were planning a huge roster of events. He couldn't remember most of them, but he knew what he'd like to see. Epic cavalcades through central London. Thunderous cannonades in Whitehall. A fly-past of Harrier jets, emitting coloured smoke that would inscribe BLAIR IS BRILLIANT on the sky. Perhaps the knighthood and the ennobling might take place on the same day, to save time. But his watchword in retirement would be at all times dignity. Think, he told himself, of the ex-politicians who became gods of the world stage. Tallyrand. Metternich. Kissinger. No, not Kissinger.... Nelson in his Bermuda shirts.

The outer bell shrilled. It was Benjy, the marvellous boy with the permanently surprised look on his face. The PM beckoned him to a seat. World statesmen do not waste words.

"The time has come, Prime Minister," said Benjy, "for Operation Stand Down to begin. You know what you have to do?"

"You'll have to remind me," said the PM. "I have been busy with less mundane matters. I have been contemplating the floor of heaven and the betterment of mankind."

"Er, yes Prime Minister. Right-oh. We have fixed up a number of events designed to show your down-to-earth qualities, your closeness to ordinary people. We want you to visit several places around the nation to show you don't care only about London."

"Where were you thinking of?," asked the PM acidly. " Margate? Cleethorpes? Nether Wallop?"

"Cities, sir, I meant visits to cities. We also decided, after much discussion, that we wanted to show you travelling in different forms of transport..."

"What did you have in mind?" asked the PM, "a skateboard? A wheelbarrow?"

"We didn't think of those," said Wegg-Prosser, "although a helicopter was briefly mooted."

"I was expecting a Rolls Phantom at the least," said the PM crossly. "Though a new Jag XK would be quite acceptable. Not, obviously, for the tickertape motorcade..."

"We haven't factored in one of those. But there'll be several people waving flags in Solihull."

"But Benjamin," said the PM, raising a hand to his tram-lined brow, "They cannot play 'See the Conquering Hero Comes' to just several people. This is supposed to be a heroic sign-off."

"The feeling is you should be presented at the end as the People's PM, who walks with crowds and keeps a common touch, the big star on his farewell tour, who won't play the last encore."

"David Bowie has a farewell tour in 1980," reflected the PM. " In fact he's had at least four." He paused. Dreamily, he said "And he's still going strong...."|

"Don't go there, sir," said Benjy.

"So where exactly am I going?"

"We've got you a slot on the Chris Evans show on Radio 2."

The great man looked at his quaking subaltern. In the terrible silence, Wegg-Prosser could hear worms being pulled from Parliament Green lawn by late-rising birds.

"What?"

"A slot on Radio 2, sir. It's very popular. Chris Evans is that tall ginger chap who used to be in the papers all the time, made £100m, resigned, spent a year getting sloshed with Billie Piper...."

"Can I not engage in a discussion with somebody who is my intellectual equal? I am an international statesman. I should be appearing with Chomsky or Fukuyama or Umberto Eco."

"None of whom will cut any ice, I fear, with the Radio 2 core audience. "

THE CHRIS EVANS SHOW (Radio 2, Tuesday, 1 May 2007)

Chris Evans: ...and that was "Oh my God" ("I Can't Believe It") by the Kaiser Chiefs. And Oh my God, I can't believe we've got Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, in the studio, sorry ex-prime minister, because of course you're resigning this week.

Tony Blair: Hah ha ha. Very amusing, Chris. I am indeed looking forward to winding down my career, but in a transcendent, statesman-like way - involved in politics yet detached from it, aloof from the hurly-burly yet available to advise players on the world stage, whenever gravitas and experience are required.

Chris Evans: So you'll be doing a lot of gardening will you?

Tony: What?

Chris: Everybody who retires takes up gardening. It's like a rule. You wear old baggy trousers and buy a trowel and potter about the garden digging up things by mistake.

Tony: I assure you I have no intention of doing any such thing.

Chris: Go on. Tell us your 10 top tips for gardeners. What kind of compost regimen do you favour?

Tony: I. Am. Not. Doing. Any. Gardening. I have plenty of other things to keep me occupied.

Chris: Oh really? You mean you've had lots of other job offers? I'm not surprised, a man of your cal-I-ber.

Tony: Well of course I've had offers. I am an international statesman. I've been asked to - to lecture on things.

Chris: About what?

Tony: Lots of things. (Whispers) I'm not really supposed to say.

Chris: Crime figures? Free holidays? Annoying wives?

Tony: No! Serious matters such as conflict resolution in Northern Ireland, debt restructuring in Africa and -

Chris: Starting wars? Bombing capital cities? Telling porky pies to the population? Traffic cones?

Tony: I never did anything about traffic cones. You're thinking of my predecessor.

Chris: Would you like to choose a song, Mr Blair, that sums up your career?

Tony: Oh, well, gosh, without wanting to seem immodest, I wonder if you have "See the Conquering Hero Comes" by, well, anyone at all really....

Chris: No, we don't have that one. But we could play "(There Ain't No Way to Hide Your) Lyin' Eyes" by the Eagles....

BLUE PETER: PROGRAMME TRANSCRIPT (TX: Thursday 03/05/2007)

Konnie Haq: Hello, everyone. We've a real great in store for you today, kids. Hands up all of you who know who Tony Blair is? That's right, he's the Prime Minister of this country, and he's a very important man. At least he was until earlier this week, when he left the job and resigned to spend more time... well, doing other things. Tony, welcome to your new life.

Tony: (brushing away tear): Hi Konnie. (Looks at camera.) Hi kids. (Makes hip-hop gesture across chest with hands, index and little fingers extended.) Keep it authentic, yeah?

Konnie: Did you know that Blue Peter was actually started 50 years ago by a man called Blair. John Hunter Blair?

Tony: Really? How extremely interesting.

Konnie: He's now completely forgotten, of course....

Tony: Yes but the show lives on....

Konnie: ...as if he'd never existed.

Tony: (Sobs audibly.)

Konnie: So how're you planning to spend all your free time? You must feel like a lot of children in our audience at home feel at the start of the school holidays. Only in your case, there won't be a new term to go back to, will there? Not as the guy in charge, I mean.

Tony: I'm actually very busy, travelling across the country, ah, connecting with the people, going to schools - 'cos I absolutely love schools - and hospitals - 'cos I, well, because they make people better - and I'll be visiting Wales and Scotland to demonstrate that devolved assemblies do work, indeed they represent in many ways the apogee of my political management....

Konnie: Mr Blair, I'm afraid none of the children watching will have a clue what you're on about.

Tony: Ah yes. I'll also be doing lots of interesting things in the arts and sport world, to show people how natural and popular I am. The kids may have seen me discussing the World Cup with Adrian Chiles. (Adopts pose.) " Ashley Cole - he da man!"

Konnie: Yes. So what would you tell the children were the main achievements of your 10 years in power?

Tony: So many things. You know your old nan, children? Well, we gave her, and all her friends at the Old People's Home, a bag of coal worth £200 absolutely free. Imagine that. And we made sure that your schools had lots of money to spend on security machines to scan for knives and guns and things. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough money left over to give your teachers. But that wasn't our fault. And of course ...

Konnie: And is there any message you'd like to send to the children out there, about the world they're going to grow up in?

Tony: I'm sorry, I appear to have been sitting on Shelley the tortoise.

REU2359 02MAY 19:12 UK-POLITICS-BLAIR (UPDATES WITH NEW QUOTES, SECOND HOSPITAL VISIT)

By Helen von Sickle

Birmingham, 3 May -- Two dozen cheering hospital administrators yesterday lined the entrance of the Heart of England Healthcare Trust hospital in Birmingham to welcome the prime minister to the flagship of what Tony Blair boasts is the largest hospital building programme in NHS history.

Unfortunately there were no doctors or nurses to greet Mr Blair for the 30-minute visit, part of a whistlestop tour of 10 cities in two days. The medical staff were all on secondment to private hospitals to earn revenue to meet the massive annual repayments required under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) funding formula for new hospitals. Nor were there any patients.

But the PM was undeterred. "This is the kind of choice people want," he said, as he was shown around the new building, where half the beds are in single rooms. "It's a shift away from large public wards to more private and personal accommodation."

The Government has borrowed more than £10bn for such schemes since 1997.

After Mr Blair had left for his next hospital appointment, the chief executive, Sir Charles Crony, said: "We find hospitals run more smoothly and profitably without patients, who get in the way, cluttering things up with their drips and it frees up medical staff to earn elsewhere."

Heart of England, like many foundation hospitals, is in financial difficulties, having spent a large proportion of its increased funding on pay rises for staff. But where other hospitals have had to cut beds by an average of 25 per cent, and staff by 15 per cent, the flagship Heart of England Trust has gone the whole hog. Administrators of some of the other hospitals Mr Blair visited yesterday are hoping to follow its example.

In Scotland, Mr Blair visited the Adam Smith Hospital in Pitlochrie. There the chief executive, Iain Smoothie, explained that next year - when for the first time in the history of the NHS, hospitals have been told to make a profit - the hospital was on target to do so.

"Our administrative costs are approaching 20 per cent of total spending, " he boasted.

"Excellent, excellent," said Mr Blair. "Perhaps we should extend the idea to other services too. We could give people a choice of fire brigades. I'll have to tell Gordon..."

Blair: 'I'm still proud of Dome' (Saturday 5 May 2007)

By Norman Wispas, Political Correspondent

A light drizzle fell upon the Millennium Dome in east London yesterday as the Prime Minister, as part of his farewell tour of the iconic places of Blairite Britain, paid a lightning visit to the site where two teams of contractors were hard at work.

The first was installing the giant central roulette wheel in the gaming hall being built by the Anschutz Entertainment Group which was last year finally - without any assistance from the office of the Deputy Prime Minister - awarded the licence to run Britain's first super-casino.

Mr Blair, who was sporting a pair of tooled leather cowboy boots, a Stetson hat and a belt bearing the initials AB on its silver buckle - having taken the advice of his closest aides that his final weeks in office would be the time to get away from the traditional single-breasted business suits which have characterised his premiership - was welcomed by the casino's owner, the American billionaire Philip Anschutz.

"New Labour was always about the creation of more jobs," the outgoing Prime Minister said, standing by the roulette wheel. "It was not all spin," he smiled, moving a large pile of chips from the red to the black and posing for photographers.

He then moved swiftly to another part of the Greenwhich complex which is being fitted out to host the "artistic gymnastic" events during the 2012 Olympic Games. Among the tournaments to be staged there will be trampolining, which features what Downing Street said was Mr Blair's favour-ite Olympic event, the freestyle bounceback.

The Dome, which the Prime Minister described on the eve of its opening as "a triumph of confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over mediocrity", has had a number of incarnations.

After the early closure of the original Millennium Experience, the place became, by turns, a Winter Wonderland Experience, a Christmas shelter for the homeless and - according to a dossier assembled for the Prime Minister by Sir John Scarlett of the Secret Intelligence Service, the place where Saddam Hussein was thought to have hidden the weapons of mass destruction which the Iraqi military would have been able to deploy within 45 minutes, providing the Docklands Light Railway was running.

In his celebration of the indefatigability of the New Labour Dome Experience, Mr Blair was supposed to have been joined by his old friend and political ally Peter Mandelson, but the former minister for the Dome was judging an EU treaty-writing competition in Bratislava.

Absent too was the Indian businessman Srichand Hinduja, now Lord Hinduja, and a British citizen, whose original passport application brought about Mr Mandelson's second unfortunate resignation from the Cabinet - over which an official inquiry, as with so many of Mr Blair's official inquiries, found that no one (apart from the BBC) had done anything wrong.

As Mr Blair left the Dome, still smiling, in a hot-air balloon, the drizzle turned to rain.

"It was a pity that Peter Mandelson and his friend could not make it," an aide said as the Prime Minister floated off into the weeping heavens.

"But Tony's genuine legacy is not delivery, but the dominance of new Labour ideas... the triumph of Blairism."

Winchester Cathedral newsletter (SUNDAY MAY 13TH 2007)

On Sunday, 6 May 2007, the Cathedral was proud to host a special edition of 'Songs of Praise', at which the former prime minister, Mr Tony Blair, was in attendance.

Here, for the benefit of parishioners who may have missed the broadcast, are some edited highlights.

Sally Magnusson: Hello. Welcome to another packed programme of devotional songs and spiritual reflections, brought to you today from Winchester Cathedral. And today we have a very special guest, no less than the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, or should I say the former prime minister, Tony, because as we know, you resigned on the anniversary of your greatest triumph on 1 May.

Tony: Thank you Sally. But hey, look, I'm not sure you're being strictly accurate here. The word "resigned" - it's so final, isn't it, so negative. It sounds like someone who's left an organisation because he can't cope or he's done something wrong or he's been asked to go by the bosses. None of which is, of course, the case.

Sally: So are you saying you haven't resigned then?

Tony: Sally! I mean, you're putting words into my mouth.... Let's just say, I'm having a little rest, taking it a bit easier, letting other people take a bit of the reins. [He consults notes.] "While not actually above politics, I am keeping my distance from the Westminster village."

Sally: So is Gordon Brown named as Prime Minister yet? The smooth transition seems to be taking quite a while....

Tony: I'm preparing Britain for its future challenges, setting out what they are and connecting with the public who gave me the chance to serve.

Sally: Despite not being the PM. Tony: One other thing, Sally. In your introduction, you said my greatest triumph was winning the election in 1997. Now I can't let you get away with that. I think history will judge my real achievements as something more important that the mere accession to power.

Sally: Such as?

Tony: Where do I start? Inflation at practically zero. The minimum wage. Free TV licences for the elderly. Peace in Northern Ireland.

Sally: War in Iraq.... Tony, would you like to suggest a hymn of praise that everyone could sing along to?

Tony: Have you got "See The Conquering Hero Comes"?

Sally: Sorry, I don't think that's a hymn. We could do "Praise for the Fountain Opened" by William Cowper. The first line is, "There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel's veins..."

Tony: Perhaps not that one. Why don't you choose?

Sally: OK. Here we go.

Congregation: "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus -"

Tony: Not that! For Christ's sake, not that....

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