At today’s breakfast jamboree for 10 years of the Health Service under Labour, Tony Blair was at his cheerleading best. Cajolling and charming at turns, he took a potentially hostile audience with him by talking to them rather than at them.
Gordon Brown must learn a little of this technique fast. The soon-to-be-outgoing Prime Minister couldn’t resist a swipe at Brown’s plans to set up an independent board for the NHS. It might just end up being a smokecreen to avoid making tough decisions, he said.
Whatever could he be referring to? He chose to repeat his doubts at the press briefing afterwards, so it was an entirely intentional dig. The best intervention came from The Guardian’s John Carvel after the PM invoked Tory industrial reforms as an equivalent tough period for the Thatcher government.
Was Mr Blair celebrating the catastrophic dismantling of Britain’s manufacturing industry, asked Carvel, a past master of these occasions. “No”, said Blair, before admitting that it was probably a bad example.
There was a moment of tetchiness with ITN for asking whether he would ever go private for health treatment, but it was mostly a good-humoured affair. I said I hoped the PM’s own health was good thanks to the NHS before asking whether he regretted overselling private sector involvement in the public services. Never ask a question with a yes or no answer. It’s basic rule of journalism, Carvel and I should have known better. The answer to my question was “no” too by the way.