Mugged by an 86-year-old

Observations on Blair

When the Labour leader Jim Callaghan first clapped eyes on Leo Abse's gaudy Budget Day finery he told the flamboyant Welsh MP that he was "finished in politics". If only Tony Blair had been so lucky. Now 86, almost deaf and recovering from a stroke, Abse has risen again from the shallow grave in which Blair buried old Labour to haunt, taunt and deride the mincing rock star doxology that pervades Downing Street these days. And herein lies a wondrous irony.

When the Prime Minister decreed that old folk should work beyond 65, he had in mind, surely, their useful employment parking supermarket trolleys or bagging up new Labour's muesli at checkouts, not crusty old geezers like Abse - an MP until 1987 - writing books that describe him as an androgynous psychopath.

Abse published Tony Blair: the man behind the smile a year before Blairism swept to power in 1997. Now he has updated it under the title Tony Blair: the man who lost his smile (Robson Books, £9.99). It is written in a fair old rage tuned to a florid oratorical style that no doubt served the author well during his years as a solicitor in south Wales. In its pitiless dissection of the minds and motivation of both Tony and Cherie Blair (she of the "ungrammatical body language") it is also a work of formidable scholarship, underwritten by the passion that has always driven one of the great social reforming backbenchers of postwar British politics.

Abse's first edition warned anyone who cared to listen that there was something decidedly rum about the younger Blair, that endearing "Bambi" model with its empty charisma and slightly gormless facade so skilfully relaunched by Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell.

A key section of the book - because it explains why Blair steadily dismantled the power of both cabinet and parliament - deals with the PM's devotion to a minor academic philosopher called John Macmurray, a one-time Marxist groupie who renounced conventional political structures in favour of a "consensus community" which, like the Boy Scouts, smiled and whistled under all difficulties and did a good deed every day.

Macmurray, Abse suggests, is the source of Blair's appetite for "partnerships" - between employers and neutered unions, government and fat-cat City, big business and state hospitals.

As early as 1995, Blair was asserting that anyone who questioned the notion of his Baden-Powell consensus was peddling "claptrap written as fact".

Abse argues that "Blair's consensus politics prompts him to de-politicise the Labour Party and proffer policies expressing his love to all and his hostility to none, excepting only those who would dare to disturb his conflict-free dreams; any voice heard to say the emperor had no clothes is, in Blair's infelicitous phrase, 'in need of therapy'."

Given that Blair's philosophy is driven by fantasies of eternal man-youth, wearing pin-ups on its blokey shirtsleeves, pedalling exercise bikes at dawn in the Downing Street gym, expressing horror as his clock strikes 50, Abse has been struck by how timid the Prime Minister is when real life knocks at No 10. His personal decision to join George Bush's war in Iraq was made in August last year only after a sleepless night during a brief walking holiday in the Pyrenees. Abse declares that Blair's "narcissistic erotic worship of youth has become a threatening doxology" in the heart of Westminster - "the kind of androgynous heavy petting that doesn't do consummation".

He continues: "Adolescent dreams of new regenerative politics acted out in rock [music] may be tolerable. But when the dream of rebirth is elaborated into a political manifesto, then we are placed on the alert; for this is the poison offered by the Nazi and fascist hucksters and accepted by their dupes."

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