I am still normal

Four years ago, I saw a great deal of Tony Blair. At that time, I was a political columnist for a British newspaper, and he was the Leader of the Opposition. As a result I saw him in public, in private, in the House of Commons, in newspaper offices; I saw him shaking hands, kissing babies, making speeches, chatting to admirers. But although we met many times during that brief period, one encounter sticks particularly in my mind. It was our last substantial conversation, and it took place on his campaign bus, just a few days before the election.

Tony Blair: ‘The fact is, we’ll go in and go out, and when I stop being Prime Minister, people won’t pay any attention to me again’

There were two other journalists, both female, also present. As I recall it, the occasion had an almost surreal quality to it. The three of us all had different agendas, and we bombarded Blair with questions too disparate to make for anything even resembling normal conversation: “What is your favourite book/ will you join the common currency/ what do you do in your free time/ don’t you think Helmut Kohl is going to eat you alive, Mr Blair?” He answered politely, as he always does (favourite books: Dickens and Thackeray; favourite food: steak and chips).

But there was quite a lot of this, and after nearly an hour of it, he finally showed a hint, just a hint, of exasperation: “I’m very normal really,” he said finally. “I’m very normal. I love my family. I have a lot of friends, a lot of whom aren’t much to do with politics. When I close the door and get away from politics, I really can’t be bothered to think about it a great deal.” After that, he won the election. I moved abroad. In Poland, Blair does not usually appear on the evening news. I stopped writing about him, stopped thinking about him.

And then, a few days ago, I was given the chance to talk to him again.

Oddly enough, meeting Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, is in some ways a less tense experience than was meeting Tony Blair, the would-be Prime Minister. His entourage is surprisingly modest, largely female, and not at all intimidating: they really do call him Tony. I had flown to Scotland to see him – the interview was to take place on the aeroplane from Inverness to London – and was surprised to find that he travels with a few youngish aides, plus Alastair Campbell, his press secretary, plus security: three cars in all. There was none of the barely suppressed hysteria that I have myself witnessed surrounding American presidents, no one shouting into telephones, no plainclothes policemen elbowing people out of the way.

On the plane, the same deliberately low-key mood prevailed. Blair was reading the Daily Express as we took off, glasses perched on the end of his nose, while Alastair Campbell, who has every bit as much nervous energy as he did four years ago, engaged in some slightly forced jollity with the security men. As soon as the plane was in the air, I was ushered in to sit immediately opposite Mr Blair, with no particular fuss. And within minutes, we were on to the same topic we had last discussed four years ago: the inner normality of Tony Blair.

He brought it up, not me. I had asked him how he felt about combining his work and his family life, which is, with four children plus a high-powered working wife, unique for a British Prime Minister. He agreed that his job does put a strain on his children. “Yes it does, obviously. Particularly my eldest boy has had a bit of a hassle. But they are very resilient. We talk about it. I just say you’ve got to be careful, really careful, but in the end it’s your life and you lead it the way you want to lead it. There’s pluses and minuses – the pluses are, you will do things and meet people that I would never have dreamt of when I was a kid, but on the other hand, you know if you do something wrong the whole world knows about it.” His family, he went on, “are very good to me, very loyal to me”. But “it is the biggest problem of the job, balancing family. Just sometimes, you’d love to be able to do things in a very normal way. The other night I went out to a restaurant with my daughter because it was her birthday, and you’ve still got to go with all the entourage and everything. Sometimes it would be nice to be absolutely normal.”

I asked if he missed being normal. “Yeah,” he said emphatically – but then he checked himself. “I am still very normal. I was saying to some children today in the school that I visited, that they are meeting someone who is very well known, but what they don’t realise is that I was just like them and I feel basically exactly the same as I always did. And the fact is, we’ll go in and go out, and when I stop being Prime Minister, people won’t pay any attention to me again.”

It is an odd sentiment, if you think about it: most people, if they want to preserve their normality, wouldn’t spend most of their lives trying to become Prime Minister, and what’s more, trying to remain Prime Minister. But Blair has, which may be part of why journalists spend so much energy trying to understand him: it seems almost impossible that someone who is so anxious to preserve his ordinariness could voluntarily live such an extraordinary life, that someone with his character should have become Prime Minister. And many of the expected explanations don’t seem to work. The fame, he tells me, “is a mixed blessing” and “you don’t do it for the money”. The “trappings”, as he puts it, don’t interest him either. “I’m not big on status,” he said at one point, and I am inclined to believe him.

Indeed, the glamour of politics often wears pretty thin when you look at it from up close. Here is the extremely famous and important Tony Blair, after an extremely long and tiring day, drinking aeroplane tea and eating rather average-looking sandwiches. Champagne glasses are nowhere in evidence. At the same time, the pressure of work is, he tells me, “relentless”, incomparably more so than when he was Leader of the Opposition. “Last night I was in Northern Ireland doing a press conference at 11 o’clock. Then I had to do bits of work afterwards – and after that I had to get up and go to Scotland and do a speech, so it is a lot.” It looked to me as though he’s aged more than the four years since we last met: greyer hair around his temples, lines around his eyes.

All of which means that you have to look elsewhere for his motivations, most of which do seem to lie in the Blair world-view, which has always seemed to me more authentically idealistic than most usually suspect. His language, the examples he uses, even the off-hand things he says to fill the occasional silences in the conversation, all testify to that deep belief in the possibility of human progress that so many people have mocked. After four years of power, I had expected some of this to wear off, or at least for Blair’s language to have become more muted, his goals more sober. It is true that he has found that getting things done is harder than he had imagined. “In opposition, you have an idea, and then you have to translate it into policy. Here you have to go farther, and translate the policy into action. It was difficult for us, when you are trying to carry out structural change, it does take a long time. There is always a constituency for the status quo. There’s not always a constituency for change. It’s very much the case that we have laid the foundations in the first term, but we need to step it up in terms of the second term, if we get that. It’s only now that the economy is sufficiently sorted to get the money going.”

Ah, the money. Nevertheless, when I raised it with Blair, he turned out to be, if anything, more intrigued by questions of morality in politics now than he ever was in the past. I asked him about religion, a subject which fascinates him, but which he is wary of discussing publicly. “If you have religious faith it’s part of you, no point in pretending it isn’t. On the other hand, I’ve learned not to mix it with politics, because you’re always misunderstood when you do.”

But, of course, he couldn’t entirely resist it: “There is a very interesting debate which I used to study at university – I was not interested in it then but I’m interested in it now – between the concept of natural law and utilitarianism. I’ve shifted far more towards the first, having been for a long time for the second.” For those who don’t remember the argument, believers in natural law hold that there is an intrinsic order to the universe, and a hierarchy of values: it is perhaps best described as the opposite of moral relativism, and is associated with both Catholicism, and with certain strains of contemporary conservative thought.

“I’m far more of a believer in…in…the power and the necessity to make judgments about the human condition, as opposed to simply saying, well look, what’s good for the greatest number is fine. I’m a great respecter of science, and the ability of science to inform our perceptions of the world. But I think there is a danger sometimes that we look at everything just in terms of what its utilitarian value is.”

Unprompted, this conversation about natural law led him directly to the subject of Kosovo, which, he told me, he could argue “was an act of self-interest, in the sense that I think had we not intervened in Kosovo there would have been serious consequences for Europe as a whole. But if I’m frank about it, that’s not really what motivated me during it…To allow racial genocide to happen right on our doorstep and do nothing about it would have been criminal on our part.”

Kosovo, he told me later in the conversation, was “very, very difficult. Kosovo was more difficult even than people thought at the time. For a time I was very, very isolated on that. I felt I was quite a long way out at the end of the branch. The country was obviously asking, why are you doing this? Our allies were very nervous about the question of ground troops, which I was convinced we had at least in principle to be prepared to use to get Milosevic to back down.”

As his decision to send British troops to Sierra Leone has amply demonstrated, he is prepared to do it again: “There used to be an idea that you just looked after your own national interest, and of course it’s true that you have to look after your own national interest. [But] I also think that there is a moral dimension to it, which is why I’ve devoted some time to Africa, which I think is a blot on the conscience of the world.”

Blair does not readily concede that some aspects of Britain’s global role might come into conflict with others. I asked him whether his devotion to Europe and his commitment to America might not at some point become contradictory.

“I think it’s tragic the way that the whole debate on Europe in Britain has been warped. I really mean this, I mean this passionately because I think it is a huge mistake. Of course there are circumstances in which Europe and America will be pulled apart… But this is what I’ve learnt in four years as Prime Minister: when we divide, the world is less safe, less stable, and less prosperous. When we unite, it’s safer, more stable, and more prosperous. And you can see that in every single area that we work in.

“There is a big part of the British Right now,” he went on, “that is anti-European. They may say they’re not but they are. They don’t have a good word to say about it. It’s crazy. Margaret Thatcher saying ‘What good has come out of Europe in the last half century?’ I mean, how about peace for the first time in Europe’s history? How about the greatest prosperity that Europe has ever enjoyed? That’s not to say there’s not a lot wrong with Europe, because there is – but prising us apart is really a mug’s game. What astounds me is how many intelligent people, because they’re drawn to this sort of Thatcherite mentality on Europe, just can’t see this.”

I pointed out that the new Republican administration is also pretty suspicious of Europe, and particularly of the independent European defence force that Blair has promoted. I appeared to have touched a raw nerve.

“They’ve had poison poured in their ear by the present Conservative Party going over there and saying this is all about ripping apart Nato, it’s a French plot to destabilise… Well, if we don’t get involved in European defence, it will happen without Britain. Then those people who really may have an agenda to destroy Nato will have control of it.”

Presumably, “those people” are indeed the French.

But Mr Blair steamed on: “Every time I explain European defence to Americans they understand it and end up supporting it. But this is all part of that ghastly traffic” – he meant Tories going to talk to Republicans – “that goes across there saying, ‘Oh, you know, the purpose of the New Labour government is to pull Britain apart from America’. I’ve been as pro-America a Prime Minister as is possible to have. There is not a single issue that I can think of in which we haven’t stood four square with America.”

If he remains committed to an ideal of – for lack of a better expression – an ethical foreign policy, Blair has also stuck firmly to a belief in the radicalism of his domestic policy, and in the originality of his political philosophy, an exposed position to hold in the face of a thousand doubters, not least the ones in his own party. Four years ago, Blair had told me that “I want to be remembered as the Prime Minister who reformed the welfare state,” and I asked him whether he thought this still would, in fact, prove to be the case.

“It’s possible, yeah, I do,” he replied, at first somewhat hesitantly, then with more emphasis. “I think people really underestimate the degree to which we… I think when I was talking about the welfare state I meant public services as well.” Actually, I suspect people thought he meant welfare when he said welfare; certainly I did.

Be that as it may, Blair continued: “I think the education programme we’ve got is a radical programme, it will change the nature of secondary schools, get past the whole comprehensive school argument. I think in the health service the plan is very ambitious, we’ll need big, big structural change, if we do it. And on welfare – we are changing the whole basis of the welfare system.”

Indeed, in the face of even more powerful scepticism, Blair also continues to believe in the existence of the Third Way, the once much talked-about but now much ridiculed political philosophy falling half-way between the Old Left and the New Right. I asked him whether it is a genuine international movement, and if he is one of its leaders. “Yes, I do believe that. What is interesting is that if you read what is written about it abroad, it is completely different from what is written about it at home. You go to Italy, or Germany, where the debates have been controversial, but it’s there as the agenda. Look what’s happening in the States with the Democrats.” The Democrats lost, I pointed out.

“But not because they were in the wrong policy position. We mustn’t repeat that.” Alastair Campbell, sitting just across the aisle, half-listening and half-pretending not to listen, at that point jumped in.

“Mustn’t repeat what?”

“Losing,” said Blair, to nervous laughter all around. Blair knows, of course, that not everybody acknowledges the depth and originality of the changes he believes New Labour has wrought in its first term, and he has various explanations. The public are cynical, they “despise politicians”. “It’s so silly, because you know when all is said and done, it’s very important.” The media are distracted: “There are a lot of unfair things, and unpleasant things that they say. There is a problem with the 24-hour media, in that I think their analyses are really superficial. I think it’s difficult for the newspapers to be newspapers any more. They feel they’ve got to commentate rather than produce news, otherwise what do they do? You’ve just got to accept that a lot of it is nonsense, really.” Curiously, he also blames the Tories for the fact that, as he sees it, “there’s a bit of a mis-match between the perception and the reality” of what Labour has done. “These are big, big changes, but because the Conservatives haven’t made much of opposing any of this, it’s sort of passed people by. One of the reasons Margaret Thatcher’s reforms have been so recognised is because the Labour Party performed this great service for her – you know, we went out and fought every single one of them. We were a very active Opposition. I don’t even notice the Tories opposing our policies.” Strange: wasn’t Tony Blair, Shadow Employment Secretary, one of the people most opposed to Mrs Thatcher’s reforms? Did he think at the time that he was doing her a favour?

But the nature of Blair’s idealism best emerges in more concrete contexts. Certainly he enjoys the philosophising that is his trademark: at one point he reminisced about “those eight, nine, ten years that I was sharing a room with Gordon Brown, and we were in this tiny little room, just discussing and debating the intellectual concepts, what we were, what was the Labour Party for, what was the basic policy framework, what was the philosophical framework…” Still, I suspect that Tony Blair’s real talents as a politician lie elsewhere. He doesn’t win people over with his philosophy, however much it means to him, but he does win people over with his ability to charm.

Indeed, there is a breed of contemporary politician, of whom Blair is one of the most outstanding international examples, who genuinely believes that no disagreements are fundamental, that if you just keep Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak or David Trimble and Gerry Adams in the same room together for long enough they will eventually make peace, that all of your detractors can be won over in the end. Blair has always been very, very good at getting people to like him, and it seemed to me, although he claimed otherwise, that he is still pained when they don’t. It is as if he wrestles constantly with this issue of people liking him, writing nice things about him.

On the one hand, he knows they won’t: “As Prime Minister you go through a hardening process. I don’t pay nearly as much attention as I used to to the day-to-day news that comes in, goes out, all the rest of it. In opposition you live or die by that, but in government you go crazy if you do that. I remember when I first came into government, a few weeks in, and when I was out late one night, I came back in and they handed me the next day’s newspapers, I thought it was just crazy.

“You’ve just got to get used to it, get used to the fact that you will have people out there with placards protesting against you, sometimes asking you for two directly contradictory things – getting very angry with you, disliking you; some of them hate you.” On the other hand, at some deep level he believes that if he could only talk to his opponents, he could persuade every one of them to vote for him. “Weird, isn’t it?” he said to me at one point. “I passed a demonstrator the other day. He was shouting and bawling, and I said, I wonder what he’s like, what he really thinks. Probably you could sit down in a room and have a perfectly rational conversation with him…”

When I asked if he was looking forward to the election campaign, he said he was looking forward to “the argument”: “If I could get out and explain to people what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, basically they’d support it.”

Blair has thought a lot about the psychology of politics, and about the ways in which people talk to one another: “No matter how high a level you reach in politics, people are just people. I know it sounds a cliche but it’s true. You sit around the European Union council or the G7 or the G8, and it’s not any different really from the village Labour Party committee – in terms of dynamics, and how people work out their positions, whether they feel they’re being treated right, are they making progress or not, are they being out-negotiated or out-manoeuvred, or are they keeping their end up.” This, one senses, has been his great discovery over the past four years; and it is probably here – sitting around a negotiating table, watching how the cards are being played – that his particular personal gifts have been best put to use.

“You know,” he added, “there used to be an old line on the Left: it should not be about personalities, it should all be about policy. Of course, maybe it should be, but it isn’t. Personalities matter enormously in politics – the personalities of individual leaders and how you get on with them.”

Which isn’t to say, of course, that he concedes to the charge of cronyism, or rule-by-clique, which is so often levelled against him – and which I also raised. “People sometimes say, well, Cabinet sessions don’t last for hours and days, but that’s just a function of modern government. It’s also that you do more through Cabinet committees and through informal groups of people.

“I remember Roy Jenkins telling me about the 1960s Labour Cabinets, when they would have Cabinet for two days. Can you imagine trying to conduct business today like that? The Government would go into freefall. I think a lot of the things that I’ve done – a strong centre, making sure that the writ of the Prime Minister runs throughout – I think that’s just an inevitable part of modern government. I don’t apologise for it at all. The crony stuff is just a piece of abuse dressed up as political argument.”

He added: “I don’t know who they are, you know.”

I pointed meaningfully at Alastair Campbell.

“E’s my press secretary!” Blair’s accent, which struck me as having fallen several social registers over the past four years, at that point veered into near-Cockney.

Blair is genuinely interested in people’s personalities; partly as a result, he is also inclined to see the best in everybody. Again, this is an aspect of his character that would certainly be appealing in the “normal” person that he is not, but is somewhat odd and unexpected in the world of realpolitik which he necessarily inhabits. Blair has, for example, gone out on a limb, by comparison with other politicians, in his relationship with Vladimir Putin, the Russian President. While even Clinton maintained a cool relationship with Putin – a former KGB officer who is not averse to sending police to harass his critics – Blair has gone to the opera with him, and arranged for Putin to have tea with the Queen.

I asked him why, and in response, Blair described Putin in a way that almost sounded as if he were describing himself: “What I know is that he’s got a country that’s got so much sorting out to do. I don’t think it’s surprising that, after years when people would have felt that there wasn’t a strong sense of direction, that he’s giving it.”

To Blair, it might make a certain kind of sense: Blair is a “reformer”, Putin is a “reformer” too. The idea that someone might be a “reformer” who wants to take his country back to the authoritarian past is not one that Blair wants to entertain. The flip side of this belief in the fundamental goodness of most people is, one suspects, profound disappointment in those who betray his trust. I have no doubt that Blair had prepared himself for questions about Peter Mandelson, but even so, the definitiveness of his responses surprised me.

I asked if he missed Mandelson. “I certainly miss his ability in government – absolutely, of course I do. [But] what’s happened has happened, there’s no point going over it again. He was a close friend.”

Blair used the past tense, and then corrected himself: “He is a close friend. But you’ve got to get up and get on.”

Along with “normal”, “lucky” is also a word that Tony Blair uses a lot. “My family life’s very strong and very lucky,” he said: “The kids are all doing well and the baby’s a delight, so I’m very lucky.” And later, when speaking about his four years in power, he said it to me again: “We were very lucky in many ways, we had spent a long time in opposition preparing, so we knew what we wanted to do. We’d been lucky because we had a very strong economic manager in Gordon. We’d been lucky because the Conservatives are pretty useless.”

And this too is something different from four years ago: so frequently does Blair mention his luck that it almost seems, at times, as if he is now waiting for his luck to run out, for people to stop liking him, for his winning streak to stop, for his poll ratings to plummet, for his career to collapse in an instant the way that Peter Mandelson’s did.

Unusually for a politician, he seems to have a powerful sense of the fragility of it all, of the fleeting nature of his position, of the fact that “when I stop being Prime Minister, people won’t pay attention any more”. When we talked about the fuel crisis, the first time he was really and truly unpopular, he said – and again, I believe him – that he had almost welcomed that spot of unpopularity. “To be frank, I thought it was always going to happen, and in one sense I was quite relieved that it did because it broke the taboo. You can’t expect to be Prime Minister and go through life pleasing everyone all the time; you shouldn’t do the job if that’s the case… If I’d conceded to everyone’s demands the economy would have gone down the tubes. You’re constantly aware of the fact that there is a limit to the demands you can meet. You cannot do everything that everyone wants. Things take time. I was always prepared for that, far more than people ever thought, so when it happened I thought, well, you know, that’s what you have to expect.”

This isn’t to say that he lacks self-confidence, because he doesn’t. Asked about what mistakes he’s made over the past four years, he named a few – to do with the 75p pension rise, and the Dome – but after a moment notes that “there is no fundamental question which I’ve got wrong. In terms of the overall direction, we’ve got the right priorities, of that I’m sure. Whether we’ve always delivered on them, well, that’s the struggle of being in government.” And later, “despite what people say about all of this spin doctor rubbish and all the rest of it, I’ve always had a very clear idea of what I’ve wanted to do with the Labour Party and for the country. People may not like it, but I know what I want.”

The self-confidence also comes out when he refers to the Tories, whom he returned to again and again, and about whom he is deeply scathing. He is surprised, he said, that the present Tory Party “don’t appear to have thought things through. It’s not that they are unintelligent people, but there’s no sense that they’ve taken a step back, taken some months out, really worked out where they want to be.”

As for the Conservatives’ call for the re-negotiation of the Nice Treaty, “if we were adopting a policy as utterly and completely irresponsible as that, we would be absolutely at odds with everybody who is inside the European Union, also with everybody who’s about to come in to the European Union. It is almost unbelievable. Yet you have a large part of the British media who sit there and say that’s a good idea, even though anybody with an instant intellectual analysis would realise that it was completely crazy to suggest.

“They [the Tories] judge Mrs Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister in Europe by her last three years, not the first seven. The first seven she was often a constructive player in Europe. It’s a shame they allow themselves to be captured by a pretty extreme view of how they ever were in government.”

At only one moment, in fact, during the whole conversation did I catch what might have been a hint of genuine self-doubt. I asked about the worst moment of the past four years, and after joking about “questions you’re never sure really whether you can answer”, he named the bomb at Omagh.

“Even during the fuel crisis. I didn’t actually doubt that I was doing the right thing. Maybe I was wrong, but I didn’t doubt it. I wasn’t sitting there thinking ‘Oh dear’, I was just handling it. Whereas something like Northern Ireland – when the Good Friday agreement was done, that was a real moment of elation. When Omagh happened it was a real moment of despair.”

I realised afterwards, listening again to what he’d said on tape, that it wasn’t clear whether Blair was telling me that he felt despair because of the people who died, or whether it was because he doubted suddenly whether he was doing the right thing in Northern Ireland at all. Bombs are, after all, glaring evidence of the failure of a policy of negotiation, of talk.

Yet if he doesn’t, for the most part, lack self-confidence, it is equally true that the Blair I met last week doesn’t radiate the fierce ambition of the Blair I last spoke to four years ago. It isn’t exactly that he’s tired. When asked directly, he denies that he is: “I get less tired than I used to, funnily enough. I find far more energy. I would say since my holiday in August I haven’t had a break, but I feel fine about it.”

But not only does he seem to be psychologically preparing himself for a possible collapse of his lucky streak, he’s also clearly thought about other options, other lives he might lead. At one point, he mused about the fates of his contemporaries: “It’s amazing how many of my friends I was in school and university with, they ended up so rich. There’s a mate of mine I ran into the other day – we used to run discos together and things, now he’s worth millions.” Perhaps in another life, Tony Blair might have become the managing director of a fashionable internet venture.

Although he didn’t say so directly, I sensed that he really has thought about quitting at some point after the next election – perhaps, as rumour has it, handing over to the hungrier Gordon Brown. When I asked him, point blank, whether he would serve to the end of his second term, the result was what seemed to me a surprising exchange. Whereas another politician would have swept such a question aside – one imagines Mrs Thatcher slamming her fist on the table and announcing “I will go on, and on, and on” – Blair replied that “I don’t take anything for granted. I always say when people say to me, will you serve a full second term, I say, I have to get one first.”

I said I could not believe that he would want to quit; not after all the effort it took to get there.

“You should stay as long as you’re useful, and go when you’re not.”

I asked when he would cease to be useful.

“I can’t judge that. I still believe very much in what I’m doing now and know I’ve got more to give, but there’s no point in staying in the job for the sake of it.” And this, in fact, is where he sniffed at the notion that he was in it for the glory. “The trappings are really… I’m not interested in them at all. I’m not big on status.”

Later, he snapped at me – the only time he was less than fully co-operative and polite – when I asked what he would be doing if he were not in politics. “That’s a private question, Anne.” I hadn’t thought that it was.

“I’m lucky,” he added, using that word again, “in the sense that I’ll get out before my working life is over. I’ll have time to do something else.

“I have thought about it,” he went on, “it would be unnatural if I didn’t.”

As the plane started to land, Blair relaxed a little bit, leaned back in his chair. Someone had told me that he once had a fear of flying, and he confessed it was true: “I just made myself fly and fly and fly again until I got out of it.” One of his aides, now listening, said “Oh, you told us you used to have to drink a lot before getting on a plane.” Blair pulled a face: “Hey, are you my press officer, or are you not?” More laughter.

I commiserated: I used to need a drink before getting on a plane myself, and began telling him about it. Even as I did so, I thought again how very, very good Blair is at making people want to tell him things: to confess things, to explain things. When we spoke briefly about Russia, I’d had to restrain myself from spending half the interview telling him what I thought about Chechnya, and about the behaviour of his friend Vladimir Putin.

Instead, remembering that I am a journalist and he is the Prime Minister, I said, “Oh, let’s talk about it another time.” He brightened: “Yes, we should do that.” For a split second, I almost believed that, in some sunny future Downing Street drawing-room, we would.

As the plane made its final descent, Blair looked in mock horror at my tape recorder: “Is that thing still

I switched it off, and said “OK, now you can tell me all your secrets.”

“I don’t know any secrets,” he said.