Bliar

Peter Mandelson’s memoir confirms how slippery Tony Blair was as prime minister.

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".

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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

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