Satire and the great cardy challenge

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Indy Politics
After the cardigan came the smile, then there were the sticky-out ears, and, of course, Cherie. Tony Blair has become the satirists' nightmare, as they struggled to find any defining traits from the Labour leader's bland appearance, flawless family life and "estate agent" personality.

But the best is yet to come, according to cartoonists, impersonators and comedians across Britain, who believe that if Mr Blair takes residence at 10 Downing Street after the next general election, his most risible characteristics will finally emerge.

John Moloney, the comedian, said: "If Tony Blair was a place, he'd be Milton Keynes. His image has been so protected by the machine behind him, it's almost Stalinist. There's a sense if you take the piss, you're airbrushed out of the picture."

He added: "The schoolboy image, with MPs as the prefects, is the most appropriate. He's the boy who would have read Lord of The Flies, written his name in Celtic runes on his exercise book and knew all the words to the hymns. He's also that middle England, soft-metal, punk- passed-me- by kind of bloke."

So far, Mr Blair, more than a touch sensitive about being teased, has dodged their sharpest stabs by keeping his appearance indistinctive, and refusing to allow distinguishing habits or style choices to take root. Most notably, when his cardigan-man image began to stick, Blair's cardy disappeared. It followed the saga of John Major's underpants, when it was alleged the Prime Minister tucked his shirt into them, and a similar design trait was sought for Blair.

Chris Priestley, an illustrator and cartoonist for the Economist and the Independent, said: "The cardigan was about coming back with something as naff as John Major's underpants. But Blair is such an estate-agent figure, it won't be until he gets into power that we'll really get a hold on him."

He added: "He is determined not to give us anything hard to push against, so we've gone overboard on what there is. He's got no more sticky-out ears than me, but you'd think he was an elephant, and the grin has turned into Jack Nicholson in The Shining. "

There have been breakthroughs, however. Blair has posed one of the most bewildering challenges to impersonators, who enjoyed a golden era in the 1970s, led by Mike Yarwood who became almost indistinguishable from Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister.

After struggling to capture Blair's physical appearance, Rory Bremner turned instead to the Labour leader's style of speaking in clipped, catch- phrase terms - "New Labour", "Young Labour". His parody of Blairspeak has paved the way for the the less amusing Tory imitation.

Clive Anderson, the interviewer, is among those who believe Blair will only lend himself properly to satire when he takes up power. He said: "Maybe we'll all be looking back on Blair the Prime Minister as quite a colourful figure years down the line. Once he's gone, there will probably be someone even blander."