Matthew Norman: I can see it now: 'President Blair'

A new EU post is so perfectly suited to the former PM that it makes you wince

Thursday 18 June 2009 00:00

To the first reader to answer the question, "Who is the President of the European Council?" without cheating, I promise to pay the sum of £10,000. Due to budgetary constraints, I should add, the prize will be paid in Monopoly money. But knowledge is its own reward, so well done anyone who shrieked: "Durrhh, what with the Czechs' holding the rotating presidency it must be Jan Fischer!"

Let the rest of you be consoled that now more than ever ignorance is bliss, and here's why. There is a very fair chance that before this year is out we will all know the name of President of Europe, as the post will be restyled... and that it will be Mr Tony Blair.

There are several obstacles in what Mr T, with his Middle East peacemaker's hat on, would call the road map. For one thing, the creation of this post, with its 30-month term, depends on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty that creates it. This in turn relies on the Irish reversing their decision and voting for the Treaty in October.

The other minor problem is that the 27 EU governments would have to elect him, by qualified majority, in December. Clearly some (the sane ones, perhaps) won't be keen, or will be keener on others. Should Angela Merkel lose the German election later this year, for example, Europe's outstanding leader should walk it.

And yet, and yet... the first and only reliable rule of contemporary geopolitical life is that what Mr Blair wants, Mr Blair gets. And that even when he gets what he didn't want, such as being turfed out of No 10 ahead of schedule, it turns out to be exactly what he should have wanted all along.

So it was that the great peacock charlatan of global politics was forced to flee just before the economic and political fires he helped set caught ablaze. Had he served that promised full term, he'd have been ruined by the economic and expenses calamities that have rendered the man who removed him from office a prisoner of ... well, effectively of Mr Blair.

For months and months, the mystery of why he keeps sparing Gordon Brown has driven me mad. It's perfect role reversal, of course, because for years it was Brown who had Blair at his mercy and didn't strike. But that was because he's yellow through and through. Mr Blair, whatever else he may be, is no coward. And even if he was, what did he have to lose? All he had to do last July, from the safe remove of the plutocrat's yacht or villa he was poncing off at the time, was encourage his loyalists in Cabinet to quit, and Gordon would have been dialing Pickford's.

Instead he told them to stick around, and colluded in (quite possibly brokered) the sensational recall of Peter Mandelson that avoided terminal civil war. Once again a fortnight ago, the merest whisper in David Miliband's ear would have provoked the fatal resignation. Once again Mr Blair gazed down on a prostate and bleeding Gordon, and defied the bloodthirsty crowd by raising the imperial thumb rather than lowering it.

All right, it would have looked a bit eye-for-an-eye had he done unto Gordon what Gordon eventually did unto him. But then there's always been more of Moses than Jesus about this remarkable man of God; and besides, he'd merrily have convinced himself that he was only protecting the party he professes to love by removing a grotesque electoral liability. It would even, for once, have been the truth.

Since Mr Blair acts solely out of pure self-interest, a conspiracy theory for this inaction presents itself. The only direct advantage I can see for him in Gordon's survival is that his hopes of becoming President of Europe depend on it. It's not just that Gordon's downfall would have necessitated a general election, when the arrival of a new British PM as opportunistically Europhobic as David Cameron (however relaxed he is reported to be about a President Blair) would be lethal to the prospects of an old one. It's that those prospects also depend on Lord Mandelson remaining the de facto prime minister (deputy, schmeputy; he's the guv'nor now) in December, and in a position of maximum strength from which to use his political gifts and reassuring status as a pro-Euro ex-Commissioner to schmooze dubious EU leaders into the Mr Tony camp.

Mandy, meanwhile, will require a glamorous new job himself this time next year, and what could be more enticing than returning to Brussels as the President's Chief of Staff? Or better still, given that ancient ambition to become Foreign Secretary, as the President's Special Emissary to the Whole Wide World?

The job is so perfectly tailored for Mr Blair, it makes you wince. Its duties and powers are so ill-defined that it will be as large or as small as the first incumbent can make it. Knowing Mr Blair, we may expect him to parlay it into something huge, or at least with the appearance of hugeness. Even if denied the influence over European policy on trade and defence for which he's already lobbied, there'd be a lot of swanking to be swanked.

Cherie won't like the bar on a private jet, but even crumby old 777s can get you to Washington in relative comfort. That lucrative American market would rejoice to see him addressing Congress again, with brilliantly delivered vacuous drivel about the need to create a strong Euro-American alliance in the causes of free trade and world peace. Imagine them back at Camp David (can he still squeeze into those ball-crushing denims?) schmoozing the Obamas on equal honorific terms as Europe's First Couple.

No wonder he craves this job, and no wonder she hasn't vetoed it, whatever the cost in investment banking and public speaking income postponed. His work for the Quartet in settling those trifling local difficulties in the Middle East is almost done, as the serenity in Tehran underlines. It's time to move on and up. It's time for that Barbra Streisand, positively final comeback tour. It's time for this West Wing fanatic to achieve the fondest of fantasies, and be addressed as Mr President by all.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in