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

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.