Tony Blair attends the 2013 CCTV's China Economic Person Of The Year Award on December 12, 2013 in Beijing, China. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Even as a Blairite, I'm tired of defending Blair

Labour’s serial election winner may have finally found an enemy who is capable of destroying him: himself.

At a televised town hall meeting shortly before the 2010 Congressional elections, Democratic supporter Velma Hart told President Obama that she was "exhausted of defending you, defending your administration...and deeply disappointed with where we are right now."

I know how she feels.

In 1997, my school was falling down. In 2007, I was offered a place at Oxford University. In the decade between, I saw the local housing estate be completely rebuilt and I heard my teacher tell the school bully that there was nothing wrong with being gay. I attended a civil partnership and I watched Northern Ireland go from breaking news to a peaceful settlement.

So I’m never going to get exhausted of defending Tony Blair’s administration, but I am increasingly tired of defending Tony Blair, and I’m disappointed, too, with where we are right now. I’m not, to be honest, particularly exercised about what Tony Blair says to Rebekah Brooks – everyone’s got at least one slightly dodgy mate -  but I am angry that the man who is quite rightly hailed as a hero in Kosovo for standing up to a brutal dictator now takes money from another brutal dictator in Kazakhstan. I don’t understand why the man who led a government that was more redistributive than Clement Attlee’s now runs a foundation that won’t pay its interns.

These ought to be boom years for Tony Blair; David Cameron’s brutal and incompetment administration is a living rebuke to those who claimed that there was no difference between New Labour and unrestrained Conservatism. The institutions and services that people are now rallying to defend against the coalition’s axe are, for the most part, ones that were set up by Blair’s government. Abroad, too, the events of the last seven years should have restored and strengthened Blair’s reputation. Iraq is a running sore, but Western leaders have now stress-tested whether or not you can have regime change without outside intervention, and the bloody lesson from Syria, Bahrain, Libya and Egypt is that if the incumbent controls the military and has no inclination to leave freely, then you do not get regime change. But who do latter-day supporters of a foreign policy that puts freedom and democracy at the heart of Britain’s dealings in the Middle East find supporting the military junta in Egypt? Tony Blair.

In office, Blair was blessed in his opponents, who were mostly either odious, like George Galloway, inadequate a la Hague, or, in the case of Iain Duncan Smith, both. In retirement, though, Labour’s serial election winner may have finally found an enemy who is capable of destroying him: himself. Instead of developing the stature of a British Bill Clinton, he instead taking on many of the worst features of the post-White House Clinton; the sinister associates, the dirty money, and a party that, instead of lauding him as a saviour, begins to regard him as, at best, a slightly embarrassing elderly relative.

It has taken eight years of the worst and most right-wing President in American history, and a further six years of progressive rule dominated by conservative instrangience for the Democrats to truly let the Clintons into their hearts again. Blair seems determined to ensure that even twenty years of Boris Johnson in Number Ten may not be enough to save him.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics. 

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The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism