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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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.