The storm will by now have struck and a five-month typhoon of phone-hacking testimony begins at the Old Bailey today, but for New Labour fans in the North-west the tempest came early with twin depressions on the 2015 election front.
Whether Jack Straw’s forthcoming retirement as Blackburn’s MP is a more savage blow than Alastair Campbell’s disinclination to stand in Burnley is hard to call. Insisting that Ed Miliband is so desperate to have him in the Commons that he offered to abandon an all-woman short list in his favour, Ali confides that “a big part of me wants to do it, and a big part of me doesn’t”.
The big part that does is the part that would yield to the deafening public clamour for his parliamentary presence. The bigger part that doesn’t is “the part that has a very different sort of life ...” And what a varied life it is, with the novels and endless diaries, appearing hourly on his beloved BBC, and a burgeoning portfolio of international consultancies.
While Ali takes credit for steering Edi Rama to power in Albania, he bashfully leaves it to The Mail on Sunday to report claims that Mr Tony Blair has helped broker a lucrative deal, through a company called Windrush Ventures Limited, between Nursultan Nazarbayev – the lifetime dictator of oil-and-gas-rich Kazakhstan (where Ali was sighted enjoying a battery-recharging break in 2011) with a slightly laissez-faire approach to human rights – and the Portland lobbying firm for which Ali works as an adviser.
Life is such a struggle for Nazarbayev – who Tony has always claimed seeks his advice on political reforms, and not on whitewashing his human rights record – last month saw him pay Kanye West a miserly $3m to perform at his grandson’s wedding, so the voters of Burnley, however heartbroken, will understand Alastair’s need to weigh the demands on his time and prioritise accordingly.
Fare thee well, Jack Straw
Returning to Jack Straw, the announcement that he will leave Parliament at the next election will ignite an inferno of debate over which was his signature triumph. Was it his 1997 refusal to reopen the Hillsborough inquiry? The sly attempt to sneak through legislation precluding even a deceased’s family from certain inquests? Or any part he played in facilitating the abduction and handing over of Libyan dissidents (and in one case a pregnant wife) to Gaddafi?
What brooks no debate is this: Jack’s retirement has nothing to do with fears that he will be lacerated by the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraqi calamity, which is expected to report next year.
We wish Jack a prosperous retirement. Should he need to supplement his pension, Mr Tony will put him in touch with a central Asian tyrant seeking guidance on how to launder his human rights record.
Startling break with army conventions
Speaking of Iraq, I am intrigued by a reflection of an army officer involved in the mysterious ringing of Heathrow airport with tanks in February 2003. Cynics and sneerers suspected that this was a stunt designed purely to ratchet up worries about terrorism and heighten public support for the invasion of Baghdad the following month. While this is patently ridiculous, the soldier tells me that, in a startling break with convention, none of the troops had any ammunition in any of their weapons.
The case of the vanishing guru
I am saddened to report that last week’s request to Keith Vaz was ignored. The chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee declined to invite Jon Gaunt to attend and explain his Plebgate role as public relations guru to the West Midlands Police Federation. The one silver lining is that Gaunty had a brief cameo in the testimony of Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton, who richly impressed observers by robotically apologising for talking to the media immediately after the Andrew Mitchell interview, although there was no mention of the allegation he lied to Mr Mitchell about its contents. The sergeant revealed that his only media training came from a certain Jon Gaunt, though in the midst of such an assured public performance perhaps that hardly needed stating.
And thanks to crime reporter Sandra Laville for retweeting this gem from a certain @jongaunt, from 29 November last year.
“Check out my new media and campaigning website. See how we organised Plebgate and got cops massive anti-cuts publicity.” The website has since vanished, as alas has Gaunty.
If anyone spots him, let me know. In the light of all the career reverses, I hope to persuade The Specials, his favourite band, to do a charity gig, and am keen to discuss arrangements without delay.