'So sweet' Blair grins as he grovels

John Carlin on the Labour leader's American adventure

THERE was something a little undignified about Tony Blair's demeanour during his visit to the US last week. He was a touch too eager to please.

Like a Latin American politician whose party has been perceived in the past as too suspiciously left-wing by America's censorious opinion-makers, but which has suddenly been confronted with the real possibility of power, the Labour leader has turned pragmatic, judging it wise to mould his rhetoric to conventional US tastes.

He seemed to be begging for approval. Not so much the leader-in-waiting of a nation with which America is supposed to share a special historical partnership, more the reformed Nicaraguan radical pleading for investment money from Uncle Sam.

Whether Mr Blair was addressing Wall Street at lunch or Middle America on breakfast TV, the message was always the same: time has shown that you were right and we were wrong, that, yes, the time-honoured American orthodoxies do after all offer the best recipe for happiness and prosperity.

Thus, he assured his audiences, New Labour would not punish the people at the top; he would cut taxes; he would not roll back Thatcherite legislation and restore the unions to pre-eminence. "We used to be far too dominated by interest groups and pressure groups," he told ABC, sounding like a repentant revolutionary who has finally realised Marx was wrong.

In a slightly more sophisticated vein, as if taking his cue from the wordsmiths who shape the oratory of US election campaigns, he tossed his audiences some reassuringly familiar sound bites. He was "tough on crime"; he worried about "declining values".

"New Labour is a party of the centre ground," he declared. "New Labour is back in the mainstream." "New Labour is reunited with the modern world" - meaning with America, meaning forgive us our past misdeeds, oh mighty ones, and love us, take us back into your warm embrace.

If he didn't quite pull off the performance when he tried to sound like an American politician on the stump, it was because, rather charmingly, he lacked the customary gloss of cynicism, the carefully-honed gravitas. You had a sense that he was running, not for the leadership of one of the world's most venerable nations, but for the presidency of a student body.

Halfway through a dinner in his honour on Thursday at the residence of the British ambassador in Washington, he left his table to hear the result of the Staffordshire by-election. He returned, and for the rest of the evening appeared unable to wipe from his face an expression of puppyish delight. The big boys were there - General Colin Powell sat at his table, Ben Bradlee and other eminences of American journalism sat nearby - and he'd shown them he was a big boy too.

The ambassador's after-dinner address would have come across as embarrassingly trite before a London audience but in the circumstances was probably appropriate, reinforcing as it did the image upper-class Americans find so pleasing of Britain as a land of well-bred toffs. We learned that the ambassador and Mr Blair had attended St John's, the wealthiest of the Oxford colleges; we learnt that St John's owned so much land you could walk all the way to Cambridge without leaving college property, but "Who would wish to do that?" Ha ha.

When "the next prime minister", as the American media call him, stood up to respond, it was to announce with breathless excitement that his party had won in Staffordshire South-East, that there had been a swing of 22 per cent! Mr Blair paused for applause, and Gen Powell, who displayed less enthusiasm on learning he had won the Gulf War, politely patted his hands together with the rest of the bewildered guests. (Staffordshire who?)

After Mr Blair's speech the guests adjourned for brandy and port. "He's so young!" they whispered. "I've got a son that's four years older, for God's sake!" "He's 43 you say? He looks so boyish!" "He's so sweet and earnest!"

They were too courteous to say it, but what they meant was: there's no way a kid like this could become president of the United States.

Leading article, page 20

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all