Is Tony Blair thinking of a comeback in British politics? "I'd like to find a form of intervening in politics," he told Charles Moore the other day. What might this form of intervention be? Certainly not from the House of Commons, from which he resigned as soon as he stepped down as Prime Minister, uniquely. Certainly not from the House of Lords, which Moore thought he might feel unworthy of him. If talk of a "comeback team" in Blair's entourage is accurate, there may be something in mind entirely outside party organisation, entirely free of the inconvenience of democracy. Just some enormous power of unaccountable intervention from an offshore haven, I suppose.
The political comeback at the very top has only recently become a rare phenomenon, and the convention that prime ministers, once they have left office, should leave active politics is the decision of two generations ago. Wilson and Churchill were defeated, hung on and returned to power after an interval. Alec Douglas-Home, after a short spell as Prime Minister in the early 1960s, returned in 1970 as Heath's Foreign Secretary. But convention in recent years has been that former prime ministers withdraw from the front line as soon as they have been defeated, and, unlike Heath, step down from the Commons after a decent interval, perhaps to run a foundation of uncertain purpose.
Blair, it is startling to realise, is not yet 60. He made up his own rules as he went along in government; finally, like no other Prime Minister in history, he resigned in 2007 in full health, still in command of a substantial majority, in the middle of a parliament, and stood down as an MP immediately. Since then, he has concentrated on making a fortune by speech-making (a reported £190,000 a pop), advising JP Morgan (£2m a year), and so on, bringing him up to £20m last year alone.
Can money and an existence shaking hands make up for losing the real power of prime minister? You can see the temptation. The second you leave office, the whole country falls apart. What could be more heroic than a return to leadership in your nation's hour of greatest need? Well, asked the question in a direct way by Christiane Amanpour, Blair recently had this to say: "I'm not really. It's just that people ask you the question in a way that says, you know, rule it out, and I kind of think, well, why should I? But that's not the same as planning to do it. You know what I mean."
That is not quite a fair recollection of what he actually did say to Sarah Sands in an earlier interview, who asked if he would take another term as prime minister if he were offered it. He said "Yes, sure, but it's not likely to happen."
Probably the time will come when we revisit our opinion of Mr Blair, and see the strengths as well as the appalling shallowness of his government. That time is not now, however, and politics has changed in the past five years as if he had never been there. Blair can't be blamed for having delusions and fantasies about revivals of power. But let's not encourage him; it seems very unkind.
A sound like no other
Daniel Barenboim's orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, has been doing a remarkable thing all week: performing all nine of Beethoven's symphonies.
The orchestra was set up by Barenboim and the Palestinian intellectual Edward Said in 1999 from young players from Israel and the Arab world, as well as some Spaniards. It is currently based in Seville. Going on the performances this week, it has a fascinating future, and sounds unlike any other modern orchestra; it sounds to me very middle-European in pedigree, but not like a modern German orchestra. It is reedy, forceful, lyric, expressive, and a bundle of sharply disparate tone qualities rather than the smoothed-out elegance of most professional orchestras.
There's been a lot of comment on this orchestra, not all of it supportive. Some commentators have viewed the spectacle of Israelis and Arabs sharing music stands on the stage as a pointless performance which elsewhere licenses separation and hatred. But progress is made through symbols as well as anything else. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the decline of classical music in England, where it is largely used to discourage youths from hanging around Tube stations. Its future may be outside Europe, where its raucous, various, intensely human bundle of tones and sounds will do as well as anything to show some people that living together is at any rate possible.
Missing the party – again
I confess: I now feel guilty and regretful about getting out of England for the Olympics. I have a small history of managing to be somewhere else at the crucial time. During Diana Week in 1997, I was cycling in Italy when the princess, below, died. I can't say I exactly arranged to be somewhere else this time, but the thoughts of the crowds and the security checks struck me as a high price to pay for hosting a handball-and-diving competition.
But now I've been conned; I can't believe I'm not there on Clapham High Street only eight miles from the dressage! I could have paid £50 for a seat at the diving from which you can't see the board! I could have paid £2,012 to get a top-quality seat at the opening ceremony!
I don't believe that I would regret any of these opportunities, but I start to regret removing myself from the city in which all these things are happening. It seems like an excellent holiday mood, even for those unenthusiastic about sport in general or in particular. So I rather think I might go to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. That sounds like fun.
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