'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
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
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project