Euan Blair: The real heir to Tony is back and may have Westminster on his radar
The great and good of New Labour will be out in force on Saturday for the wedding of the former Prime Minister’s eldest son – and asking themselves whether he could follow his father all the way to No 10
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Friday 06 September 2013
The canvassing meeting in the old coaching inn on the outskirts of Corby was fairly routine. Looking at a map of the ward, the campaign chief divided the streets carefully among those who had come along to help. There were faces everyone knew, activists whose hard work wasn’t enough to stop Labour losing the seat to the Conservatives in 2010. And there were others, young outsiders, who’d made the journey to Northamptonshire to knock on doors, leaflet, do the graft of the foot soldier – critical if Ed Miliband was to claim victory in the by-election that arrived in late 2012 after the resignation of Louise Mensch. “Euan” was one of the outsiders.
He’d been introduced with just his Christian name, nothing else. It was noted that he was experienced and had worked on previous Labour campaigns. There were a few nods and exchanged handshakes.
The teams split up, each with a mark beside Labour households that needed a personal reminder about how important their vote was. Those who had worked alongside Euan noted that he was low-key but effective, direct but mannered, good at making a quick, positive impression. The canvassing operation finished up at around 9pm. There were more thanks and more handshakes and Euan left in his car.
A week later Labour retook Corby, with Andy Sawford heading for the Commons after a widely praised by-election effort. No one particularly noted Euan’s help – why should they? Another activist, doing his bit, is how the party functions.
Next week, in a Buckinghamshire mansion reported to be worth close to £8m, Euan, 29, will marry his girlfriend of eight years, Suzanne Ashman, who is four years his junior. Marquees will be set up in the grounds of South Pavilion, the Grade II listed house in Wotton Underwood. The guest list is being protected as tightly as a government report that could damage a prime minister. Euan’s father would know – he is Tony Blair.
Those supposedly close to the former PM have different ideas on what the wedding plans are and what guests can expect. It has been described as everything from a close, low-key family affair, to a lavish, spectacular, power event; to a prosaic “country wedding in a grand setting” worthy of a Rich List family worth somewhere north of £60m and rising.
However, the really important guests, at least for Westminster Kremlinologists, and those unlikely to be on the hit-list of the global paparazzi making their way to South Pavilion next Saturday are officials from the West Midlands Regional Labour Party organisation.
Some appear to have been over-tutored in how they should respond to inquiries about the possibility that Euan Blair – still most famous for a drunken night out and a visit to Charing Cross police station after he sat his GCSEs – will shortly join the sons of John Prescott and Jack Straw to form a trinity of PPPs (prospective parliamentary princes) aiming to enter the Commons in 2015.
Euan Blair effectively signalled that Westminster was on his radar when he left the investment bank Morgan Stanley last year to take a managerial post with the Coventry-based Sarina Russo recruitment agency, which is involved in the Government’s work programme.
Two seats in the Coventry area have been rumoured to be up for grabs. Geoffrey Robinson, the former paymaster general and MP for Coventry North West, has since indicated he intends to stay on. However, the former defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth, MP for Coventry North East, has formally announced he is going.
One senior Labour official in the West Midlands told The Independent: “Euan Blair is working in Coventry? You know, I never knew that.” Sure.
Regardless of the accidental damnatio memoriae, party hardliners may already have tried to put up a no-go sign for Euan Blair in Ainsworth’s constituency, claiming that as Coventry has no female MPs, the North East seat will be a woman-only short list. Another Midlands official maintained that the selection process to find a candidate would “run into next year” and insisted: “I’ve never heard Euan Blair’s name discussed around here. Look, the sons or offspring of Labour politicians have never got in anywhere, it’s not how we do business.”
Reminded of the political lineage of Sir John Benn, William Wedgwood Benn (1st Viscount Stansgate), Tony Benn, and Hilary Benn, the official apologised with: “Oh, fair point.”
Those who know Euan Blair, who have watched him learn how the party works, say he has not decided. A party insider said: “He’s not sure if it’s this time  or if he should wait. But if he went for it, it’ll be Ainsworth’s seat.”
Others close to him insist he’s “racked up the miles” as an activist “but never gone in shouting his surname”. But they are still without the answer to one key question: how hungry is he?
One added: “He’s ticking the right boxes, almost like the young Obama in Chicago. He could have stayed [at the bank] and made a fortune. But moving to Coventry was his choice, not his father’s. It’s his choice.”
The wedding, however, is rumoured to have turned into a battle for control, involving Euan and Suzanne – and Tony and Cherie. How it’s reported and perceived was described by Labour figures as a potential “game-changer”. One warned: “If it’s ostentatious, if the guest list is full of Warren Buffetts, bankers, Tony’s clients, Tony’s old circle, if it’s all Tony, then whatever low-profile legwork the son has put in will be undone. The sins of the father and all that…”
Will it be harder for Euan Blair than for Will Straw, Jack’s son, who was selected earlier this month to fight Rossendale and Darwen in East Lancashire? Will David Prescott, John’s son, win the selection battle and go on to become Greenwich and Woolwich’s next MP? Could a Labour government, in 10 to 15 years, have another Blair, Straw and Prescott in the Cabinet?
The young Prescott has laid the groundwork in Greenwich, living in the London borough for the past 13 years, becoming head of the local party and chair of governors in a local school. Those close to him say he believes a final nomination battle is ultimately a meritocracy that depends on a candidate’s message resonating – and whether or not he’s liked. A local borough official said: “He’ll be judged by what he says, not by his dad. Euan Blair? That’s different. Seriously different.”
Another official was brutally blunt: “The Americans have no problem with the Kennedys, the Tories have no problem [with political families]: look at Ben Gummer [son of John], Douglas Hogg [son of Lord Hailsham], Nick Hurd [son of Douglas]. Why is it a fucking problem for us, when it’s natural for them?”
Euan Blair will know soon enough if his name opens doors, or slams them in his face. His wife-to-be, who worked in Geoff Hoon’s office when they first met, and was a regular guest at No 10, is said to know the positives and negatives of good and bad publicity after a stint at the Blair Foundation.
A friend of Suzanne from her days at the elite St Paul’s Girls’ School confirmed: “They’ve had to battle for control of their wedding. And I’m still not sure who will win.”
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