Vote 2005

The Blair Affair

Its quite a boring election campaign isn’t it?

American readers will probably laugh at this, given their presidential campaigns last for months, but four weeks does seem to be dragging it out somewhat. Perhaps it is even more boring for those of us who are politically committed or at least have long made our minds up. And what is there to look forward to at the end of this? What reward for investing our attentions and emotions in the whole affair? Relief is probably going to be the best it gets.

During the dark years elections inspired all kinds of other emotions for Labour supporters – there were frustrations, hopes and fears while out campaigning. The tension of the counts and then the sinking feeling. Then the anger and despair. Then the resolution to try again.

I particularly remember 1992 when we won back my local constituency from the Tories and merrily marched from the count to party HQ to watch the results come in from the rest of the country, glasses of fizzy stuff in hand. We had been slapping backs and shaking hands but within ten minutes of television viewing the fizz vanished and we knew that even though we now had ‘our man’ in Westminster we were still facing another Tory government – we felt let down, even though it was we who had let others down.

Then there was 1997 when all those misgivings about New Labour and Tony Blair vanished for a while as a Labour Prime Minister walked through the door of number ten to cheering crowds of well-wishers. Watching on television, as the cameras panned around the crowd as they waited for Blair to arrive, I spotted old friends up against the barriers still covered in campaign badges and rosettes that had survived the all-night festivities. They were onlookers but they were involved, they might have been throwing confetti.

I’m sure I’ll manage, in the event of victory, to have a few drinks and to enjoy myself. But when you are committed politically it is hard to escape from that analogy with a marriage – they talk of a ‘honeymoon period’ in politics for a reason. It seems even more fitting as an analogy to a thirtysomething male.

If the teenage Kinnock years were groping around behind the bikesheds, moments of sudden excitement and occassional discovery, dirty little secrets and ultimately disappointment; then new Labour was the uncomfortable but reluctantly necessary compromises of adulthood.

Your relationship with second-term Labour rather depends, of course, on that big issue that we sometimes talk about here. At first it seemed to be comfy slippers and falling asleep in front of the television until the crisis when Tony ran off with his ‘new friend’ in Washington. For some this has been betrayal and they cannot stop reminding themselves and all their friends of what ‘that bastard’ did. I really do wonder if there are Guardian readers who ask their best friends ‘Why was I the last one to find out?’

If you think I am stretching this a bit, you might have a point. But then ask yourself how many times Blair has been described as ‘whoring himself’ to Bush or how many other sexual references you’ve heard to describe the unspeakable act of supporting the Americans over Iraq?

Blair couldn’t betray me because I’ve never had any faith in him in the first place. There was much to respect, even to admire on occassions, about his political skills but I never felt he was really part of the Labour family. He was what the HR people call ‘an external contractor’ – brought in to do a job. But he became the consultant who ended up running the company.

Most people have some sort of emotional reaction to Blair whether it is hate, that sense of betrayal, the milder feeling of being let down, or just a weariness at the sight of his face and the sound of his voice after all these years.

Given that Blair was never ‘family’ for me, I feel somewhat distant from all this emotion. Rather I feel like the man forced to stick up for the despised ex-husband when all around are denouncing him. You can’t quite bring yourself to make a full and spirited defence but you do manage to mumble about “the other side of the story”.

Yes, he may have behaved badly but there were ‘circumstances’ which everyone else is now so keen to put out of their minds but which you feel deserve to be pointed out. Come on Menzies, be fair, thats not the whole story.

But the good thing about elections is that it forces you into what everyone ritually announces they won’t do when friends split up – you have to take sides. Because now there is another bloke who wants to get his slippers under the table.

And there is just something not right about him.