Andrew Sparrow, on the Guardian's politics blog, highlights this particular extract (below) from Peter Mandelson's new memoir, The Third Man, which relates to a conversation Tony Blair had with the self-described Prince of Darkness in 2003.
Blair had done a "deal" with Gordon Brown over standing down before the 2005 election at a meeting with Brown and John Prescott, and here Mandelson relays the then prime minister's summary of that meeting:
"What I've told him [Brown] and John, and I really mean it, is that if Gordon really backs me and helps me and implements my policy, I'll be happy to step down."
"Really?" I asked. He [Blair] paused a moment before replying. "Well, I don't think he'll help me. So the situation won't arise. It won't happen. But I've got to do this -- so play along."
This is classic Blair: slippery, evasive, lawyerly, disingenuous. (I love the "I really mean it" and the "paused a moment before replying" and the "play along").
Our former prime minister spent years -- in the Commons, in press conferences, in TV interviews -- formulating and constructing his sentences and, in particular, his denials, in such a way as always to allow himself wriggle room, if not an out-and-out get-out clause. I remember, as a producer on ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme, preparing for interviews with Blair in the run-up to the 2005 general election. Back then, my colleagues and I were in agreement that it was impossible for Jonathan to pin him down.
And never forget the way in which he defended his decision to go to war in Iraq, telling the Labour party conference in September 2004:
The problem is, I can apologide for the information that turned out to be wrong, but I can't, sincerely at least, apologise for removing Saddam.
The New York Times aptly referred to it at the time as "an apology, of sorts, over Iraq". The thing is, nobody asked him to apologise for "removing Saddam" or for the information being "wrong"; we wanted an apology for his misrepresentation of the "sporadic and patchy" intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and for the catastrophically bloody consequences of the 2003 invasion.
But that was Blair for you: always ready to frame the question and the answer in a manner that best suited him and his interests. And he expected the rest of us to "play along".