Is Blair confusing fiction with reality?

Screenwriter points out that a scene in Blair’s book bears more than a passing resemblance to the fi

Tony Blair's critics have often accused him of blurring the line between fantasy and reality. But quite apart from dodgy dossiers, is the former prime minister confusing fictional representations of himself with real-life memories?

Peter Morgan, scriptwriter of the film The Queen, has pointed out that an account of Blair's first meeting with Queen Elizabeth after becoming prime minister in 1997 in his memoir, A Journey, bears more than a passing resemblance to a scene in the 2006 film.

In A Journey, Blair says that Queen Elizabeth told him:

You are my 10th prime minister. The first was Winston. That was before you were born.

In The Queen, the monarch (played by Helen Mirren) says:

You are my tenth prime minister, Mr Blair. My first was Winston Churchill.

A spokesman for Random House claimed that it was impossible that Blair could have been inspired by his on-screen self: "As Tony Blair says whenever he is asked about it, he hasn't actually ever seen the film 'The Queen'."

So what's the explanation, then? Telepathy? Insight? Bugging?

Morgan advanced a few theories to the Telegraph:

I wish I could pretend that I had inside knowledge, but I made up those lines. No minutes are taken of meetings between prime ministers and monarchs and the convention is that no one ever speaks about them, so I didn't even attempt to find out what had been said.

There are three possibilities. The first is I guessed absolutely perfectly, which is highly unlikely; the second is Blair decided to endorse what I imagined as the official line; and the third is that he had one gin and tonic too many and confused the scene in the film with what had actually happened, and this I find amusing because he always insisted he had never even seen it.

Hat-tip: New York Times Arts Beat blog.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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