Political sketch: Tony virtuoso

The former PM effortlessly charmed Leveson and Robert Jay.

It wasn't the Hague, it wasn't even the Old Bailey - but it was a court and it had a dock and in it a man with his hand on a bible prepared to admit he was Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.

He turned up looking suitably smart and tanned as befits an international jet-setter and former Prime Minister taking time off from his world-peace day job.

And so it was totally in keeping when an uninvited accuser equally, if more casually well-dressed, popped in to accuse him of war crimes in the sort of modulated voice that suited the occasion.

The sudden appearance of David Lawley-Wakelin caused mild surprise in the court not least to Lord Leveson alongside whose seat the aforementioned propped himself to deliver is charge.

The accused seemed singularly unimpressed and even his burly bodyguards strolled slowly to the positions of protection as Mr D L-W grappled with court staff before leaving in a prone position from whence he had come.

Lord Leveson then announced an immediate inquiry which means two for the price of one in the same room.

Meanwhile back at the other inquiry, chief interrogator Robert Jay had been so unimpressed with the interruption that his chin had not even left the hand on which it leans for much of the day's proceedings.

Mr Lawley-Wakelin had charged TB with having his hand in the till at J P Morgan in America and suggested that had something to do with the invasion of Iraq.

Mr Blair flatly denied the charges and pointed out that his accuser's outburst would hijack news of his appearance thereby proving the impossibility of the press - as evidenced by this story .

And so it was back to the fray or rather the seminar as former barrister Blair, clearly content to be back in familiar surroundings, swapped polite questions and answers with Jay and the judge.

Gone was the scourge of the Murdochs and the Grand Inquisitor of Coulson and Brooks, and in his place a new user-friendly Jay happy to let Tony use ten words where one would have sufficed.

Looking on were the seried ranks of the "feral beasts" of the press so described by the former PM clearly standing by hoping to deliver further blows to the man who provided them with so many stories over their careers.

Tony began by admitting that from day one of his leadership he decided taking on the press would be a waste of his time and so he decided to "manage it".

He did decide to try to win over Rupert Murdoch's newspapers but did not become really pally with the the big man himself until after he packed in as PM - and by then he had discovered Rupert was not an identikit right-winger - although he did not reveal which parts were missing from the box.

It was only then that he decided to get the white suit and be godfather to Murdoch minor minor.

He flatly denied using the papers to rubbish anyone during his time in politics, particularly Gordon, despite claims to the opposite. He also did not approve of bullying and did not believe that Peter Mandelson or Alistair Campbell ever did it (check tomorrow's newspapers!)

It was a vintage Blair performance as befits the man who told John Humphries he was a "straight sort of guy" over Bernie Ecclestone's £1m donation.

The best bit came when he confirmed without embarrassment his conversation years ago with Chris Mullin that his absolute priority was to win: "I know it sounds unprincipled but I believe it is my role in life," he told him.

Having no doubt already got each other's phone numbers, and without a glove landed on him, Tony then left promising to write in with his thoughts on the future of the press.

David Cameron is due his turn on 14 June. Number 10 said he had been too busy to watch Tony. If I were him, I'd get the DVD.

Protestor David Lawley-Wakelin. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.