Opinion: Middle East malaise is saving Blair's bacon

The pavilion at Lord's is not a venue that springs immediately to mind as a place ideal for an in-depth discussion on political PR strategy, but that's where I had one last Saturday.

Before lunch a pal said he had just bumped into Alastair Campbell, and had invited him to join us for a drink. Quick as a flash I adjourned to the pavilion bar, where I knew Tony Blair's former spin doctor wouldn't find me. Unlike me, he's not an MCC member, so would be unable to  get in.

As I sat enjoying the cricket and a pint of Pimms, a crusty old boy in a mucky egg-and-bacon tie came over and said he recognised me from the telly but couldn't recall who I was. Normally to such questions I reply that I'm often mistaken for some idiot called Charlie Whelan who used to work for Gordon Brown. This time I was more polite.

The chap said he thought New Labour was just like the England football team: ‘Everyone knows exactly what needs to be done but no one does anything about it.' Not a bad analysis I thought, except that Sven has probably trousered a little more cash over the years than has the Prime Minister. We both agreed that Blair had to go and give Brown time to establish himself. As a Tory, though, my interlocutor was quite happy for the PM to stay on, even if it meant ‘that hoodie-hugger Cameron' eventually taking over.

I'm sure Campbell would have had a similar view, albeit silenced by his loyalty. He prefers to write about cricket, a sport of which he has little knowledge, rather than put pen to paper about Blair.

Even Campbell, though, would have had trouble coming up with a PR strategy for dealing with the present crisis, which is being dictated by plods. When Lord Levy was arrested, journalists were stunned when all the PM's spokesman could say was ‘No comment. It's a Labour Party matter'.

Having agreed some time ago to an interview with the BBC during the G8 summit, Blair had to come up with a better line than that, but only he could have the nerve to say that he intended to be at next year's summit, too. If it wasn't for the Middle East situation, there would be a Labour backbench revolution by now.

Back at Lord's, I met someone for tea in the Harris Garden. He was a leader of one of Britain's biggest trade unions (yes, workers like cricket). ‘Charlie,' he said, ‘if Blair doesn't go very soon we really fear the Tories will get back in.'

True, but no one seems to want to do anything about it. Except perhaps the police.

charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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