Keys and Gray hit the airwaves

The former Sky duo, sacked after making sexist remarks, have made their debut on TalkSport. But did

"You're LISTENING to Keys and Gray on TalkSport," said Richard Keys, almost shouting the emphasis on the second word. Perhaps he wanted us all to know that the medium had changed, as if we hadn't guessed already. Those TV days have gone, maybe for ever.

But here they were, the sexism row behind them, the small hiatus finished; here were Keys and Andy Gray in what many might see as their spiritual home – the unashamedly brassy TalkSport. But if we'd tuned in hoping for any slip-ups, un-PC language or off-mike muttering, we were going to be disappointed. And disappointment was very much the order of the day early on, as they sucked most of the life out of the weekend's Premier League games. Maybe they were nervous. Maybe they were just being careful. Whatever it was, the airwaves weren't crackling.

The pair were introduced with the kind of up-tempo, rococo, ZZ Top-style cock rock that sports programmes like to use to give a sense of (usually misplaced) dynamism, as highlights of the weekend's goals were played. I've not listened to this station much, preferring to stick with the advert-free FiveLive for my Saturday football radio fix (unlike some of my fellow New Statesman bloggers, I have a great love for the beautiful game); but it appears that TalkSport has hired someone to grunt and bark every time a goal goes in. Fancy that.

"We've got a goal! WHAT A GOAL! Oh my word. YOU BEAUTY! HA HA! Oh! OH! Grrrrrrrr! BANG!" were some of the choicer cuts. Compared to which, "Would you smash it?", Keys's infamous off-air comment to Jamie Redknapp, seems like the kind of polite thing you might hear over the gentle clinking of brandy glasses at a gentleman's club. Perhaps, after all, these two were being hired to lend a bit of gravitas to proceedings. Maybe TalkSport needs them more than they need TalkSport.

The show, sold as "unmissable debate and exclusive interviews from the biggest names in sport", began shakily, with the eminently missable Dion Dublin musing over whether Wayne Rooney's goal for Manchester United against Manchester City at the weekend was the best goal ever in the history of the world ever.

"Was it the best EVER? What was it? The best? His best?" roared Keys. "It's up there," said Dublin laconically. And that was that. Gray and Dublin reminisced about Big Ron's Corridor of Uncertainty. And then it was time for "Incey", Paul Ince, to wander through the same topics, telling "Keysy" that Eric Cantona's chip against Sunderland was the best goal he'd seen for United. Peter Reid, Gray's old Everton team-mate, turned up minutes later, and when asked about that Cantona goal, had to remind the pair that he'd been manager of Sunderland that day. "That's how much you've lost the plot since you've been away," laughed Reid.

Lost the plot? They didn't do too badly, to be fair, for a first attempt back at radio since the glory days of Sky Sports. There were only a couple of errors – Keys accidentally cutting off Ince in his prime, and one ill-advised use of the verb "smash" apropos a goal by Matt Le Tisser – but the only way is up. First show done, it can only get better. After an hour and a half, I was beginning to warm to them, despite myself. There was no self-pitying, no angry defiance; they just got on with it. I actually ended up rooting for them.

There was just a moment of sadness, though, a tinge of Alan Partridge, where you could sense it all struck home for Keys. "You're listening to Richard Keys and Andy Gray on TalkSport With WICKES, get down to Wickes for 33 per cent off Palma ceramic wall tiles, now only £14.56 per pack," he said, barely able to contain his excitement.

The heady days have gone, indeed. But maybe all isn't lost.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad