At last it can be shown. Two days before the medallion man of British politics gets a gong for advancing world peace, The Independent on Sunday has obtained the art work for the congressional gold medal awarded to Tony Blair in 2003, but not, so far, actually minted and presented.
The medal – unlike the standard Ruritanian presidential medal of freedom that Mr Blair will receive from his old buddy George Bush on Tuesday – allows the recipient "input" into its design. This may, in the case of Britain's own pretty straight kinda guy, have been a mistake. The design features, on the reverse, a pair of clasped hands symbolising the closeness of two allies who shared even the same brand of toothpaste. On the obverse is a quotation from a speech Mr Blair made to Congress in July 2003. This circles a likeness of the former prime minister, which is approximately right, save for the shock of Bill Clintonesque hair.
It was aspects of this medal's design that ruffled the shirt front of the US Commission of Fine Arts, and prompted its secretary, one Thomas E Luebke, to write to the US Mint. In a letter dated 28 November 2008, he wrote: "The commission members expressed dissatisfaction with the design of the medal honouring Mr Blair and requested that it be revised and resubmitted, commenting that his likeness on the proposed obverse is awkward and does not convey his vitality. They emphasised that the direct adaptation of a photograph – the method used to generate this design – is not appropriate for developing numismatic sculpture... For the reverse, the commission questioned the inclusion of several elements of equal prominence, suggesting that the clasped hands be deleted."
The response of the Mint – which has the final say – is not known, but it is understood that the final look of the medal will be close to that illustrated here. The Fine Art Commission is an advisory body, and the US Mint will neither confirm nor deny that the design will change. It seems an awful lot of fuss and bother, but, since the process has taken nearly six years, they may as well try to get it right.
Things are far more straightforward with the other American gong Mr Blair receives – the presidential medal of freedom, which he will have hung round his neck by Mr Bush at a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday. The other recipients of this medal are the former Australian prime minister John Howard, and Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe.