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Sunday 1 November 2009

Political big shots need not apply

'Boney' Blair has Napoleonic ambitions, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards, wife Cherie 'Antoinette' is not so sure

WELL, whatever you think about Tony Blair, he certainly has the celeb factor. Would any member of the general public care about who was going to become president of the European Council for two-and-a-half years if the choice was between Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg or Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands? Or -- outside Ireland -- John Bruton?

Yet just the mention that Blair might want the job had even The Sun giving the story major coverage. Truly the man is, as David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary put it, someone who as president could "stop the traffic" when he visited foreign capitals.

Which is why he now almost certainly won't get the job. As The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh explained, the "plodding second-raters who run Europe" should bear three things in mind about Blair.

"First, this dazzling political showman would swiftly put them all in the shade. Second, it would outrage most British voters. Third, he's not that good."

Even more importantly, he would be able to turn the job into what he wanted it to be. Blair always wants to be friends with the most important boy in the playground, so he'd be bored even with Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy. He'd be off swanking around the international stage becoming the best friend of Obama and Putin and -- if he becomes the proud possessor of a nuclear bomb -- President Ahmadinejad.

This, after all, is the man who succeeded in being the favourite of both Bill Clinton and George Bush. The job would be all about Tony and that's the reason he won't get it. The tabloids are calling him Boney, on the grounds that he has Napoleonic delusions, and that doesn't go down well in EU capitals.

I know it's irresponsible, but I mourn the demise of his candidacy because his antics would have been a great laugh and Cherie Antoinette, as the tabloids are calling her, would have been hilarious as she competed for attention with Carla Bruni Sarkozy and Michelle Obama. It is thought, however, that she didn't really want Blair to get the job, as it would have involved a drop in income from about £5m (€5.6m) to €300,000.

What makes this job remarkable is that it is new, and the leaders of the 27 countries and 500 million people cannot agree on what it should involve. The stolid -- like Frau Merkel -- think it should be confined to chairing meetings of the European Council and helping set agendas and reach decisions -- a view of the presidency Peter Mandelson has dismissed as "elastic-band counting". The flashier, like Sarkozy, want it to help Europe speak on equal terms to the big powers. Whoever gets the job will define it for years to come. And the same applies to the new job of EU high representative, which is EU-speak for foreign minister.

No sane employer would advertise a job without describing what it involved. But then this employer is the European Union, so what else should we expect?

There will fudging and horse trading behind closed doors and some kind of compromise that will involve one of the jobs going to the right, one to the left, one to a big nation and one to a little one.

If Blair is ruled out, Miliband will be a front-runner for the foreign minister's job, though I'd chance a wild bet on Mandelson.

It was Mandelson who saved the Lisbon Treaty by keeping Gordon Brown in office when the cabinet was in revolt in June. Without his silken political skills, Brown would have been overthrown and there would have been an autumn election, a Conservative government and a referendum which would have ditched Lisbon. The Eurocracy knows it owes him.

So what about our lad? Well, the word from behind the Brussels scenes is that Bruton would have been in with a good chance if he hadn't actually applied for the job. Blair, before he was scuppered by a peasants' revolt from the small countries (aka "the dwarves") and the socialists -- who rightly do not consider him one of them -- had denied he wanted the presidency, but had sent his bagman, Jonathan Powell, around every EU capital to win support. To openly write a letter asking for the job with a CV attached is regarded as vulgar.

Personally, though I'm great admirer of Bruton for his courage, intelligence and integrity, I devoutly hope he gets neither job, for he's a federalist and capable, and that's a nightmare to eurosceptics like me. His candidacy, however, has given me another of those occasional moments of being ashamed to be Irish. "Once an Irishman is going forward, we're supporting the Irishman," said Micheal Martin in a piece of staggering parish-pumpery. Any Irishman, Micheal? Heaven forbid you should consider merit.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards