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John Sergeant spot on re TB. TB’s Olympics legacy. Liam Gallagher’s generosity

Posted on 30 October 2009 | 11:10am

A couple of nice surprises on Question Time last night. First, I was fearing real car crash telly with former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith appearing for the first time since she got caught up in the expenses scandal. But she handled herself well in difficult circumstances. So that was surprise numero uno.

Second, it was nice to see John Sergeant on there, talking palpable sense on the Blair/Europe question, and much else besides.

I have known John for a long time, initially as fellow political journalists, then when I was TB’s press secretary and he was a BBC journalist, then ITN political editor. The press secretary-journalist relationship is not always easy, and we had the occasional full and frank exchange, but I always found him fair, and I know from his public utterances on the subject that he felt the same about me.

He is also very very funny. Indeed, he started out life as a comic, qualities he put to good effect when he became an unexpected star of Strictly Come Dancing last year.

But in his journalism days I liked the way he was often able to stand aside from the herd mentality which suffuses so much of the Westminster media village. And it was that quality which was on display in his answer about whether TB was the right man for the job of President of the European Council – an unequivocal yes. He expressed considerable bemusement that there was really any doubt, and some concern at what it said about the judgement of the Tories in trying their level best to stop it.

As I know from Summits I have attended where major appointments are being sorted, constant compromising on getting the right people into the right jobs is one of the things that’s wrong with Europe. Now of course in such a complicated political structure, politics and personalities will play a part. But as John was arguing, based on considerable knowledge and experience, if the job was being decided on merit, there would be no doubt at all.

Talking of TB, the best thing in the papers today (obviously apart from the re-run in The Sun of part of my blog of yesterday – nice to see a whack at Dave in his new fave paper) is the double page spread picture in Guardian Sport, an aerial shot which shows how the main Olympic sites are developing. One thousand days to go, and it is getting really exciting already.

London 2012 is another important part of the Blair legacy, and the qualities that made it happen provide further evidence of why he would do the Europe job well.

Going full-on for the Games was not an easy decision. There was considerable opposition within and without the government. But he built support and we went for it. And if you talk to anyone involved in Olympic politics, they will confirm that beating the French for the right to host the Games was in very large part down to his presence, and his persuasive skills, in the final days before the decision was made. Those qualities could still do a lot of good for Europe.

Between now and the London Games there will be a world class international sporting event held in Britain at least once every fortnight, starting with the World Cup track cycling in Manchester today. I will be going there for the evening session tomorrow, via another world-class sporting event, Burnley v Hull. Last week, Burnley v Wigan was Marlon King’s last game before jail. Tomorrow’s could be Phil Brown’s last as Hull manager before the sack.

With such exciting sporting fare, is it any wonder that unlike TB, I have no desire to spend any more weekends of my life at European Summits in Brussels? But, like John Sergeant, I can see why TB ought to.

ps — mini-avalanche of comments on Twitter and Facebook when I tweeted that my son Rory saw Liam Gallagher give fifty quid to a Big Issue seller in South End Green last night. Some seem to think it defeats one of the purposes of Big Issue, namely the chance to make a living rather than beg. But if a seller can get more than the cover price, that is stand on your feet enterprise, so I see nothing wrong in that at all.

Quite a few bitchy comments too, on the lines that Liam G can afford it, so so what? Well yes, of course he can … so what to you too.

  • el_villano

    ignoring Blair the man & the policies, i lost all respect for him as a politician and leader of the Labour party when he went on holiday to stay with Berlusconi.

    that incident alone demonstrates why his choices mean he is a dradful choice as EU president.

  • Malcolm Spring

    Bloody hell Alastair — I was sitting at my desk reading your blog, listening to Victoria Derbyshire, and on you came, saying to her what I was reading on the blog! Glad to hear you were on message with your own message!! I happen to agree that Blair would be good. Great point you made to Victoria about having to get immune to criticism if you want to get your head above the parapet. Love the blog

  • kris

    I cannot understand some people’s problem with Liam G and the Big Issue vendor.

    Firstly, HE wasn’t the one shouting about it. A kid saw it and was impressed.

    Secondly, it was a kind gesture. He made someone’s day a bit better.

    If Liam were showing off for the papers, that’d be one thing. He’s not looking for a “thank you” from the peanut gallery as far as I can see.

    I’m astounded that people see fit to throw a kind gesture in his face.

    I doubt if the Big Issue vendor is complaining.

  • A Milton

    Didn’t Tony once say that he didn’t give to beggars? Or did I dream that? I do dream about him from time to time

  • Carly H

    I am really excited about the Olympics too. But it wil be too horrible for words if the whole thing – secured and delivered by Labour – is presided over by Cameron and his Old Etonian Wall Game team. We have to stop them.

  • Tom

    I wonder if people would have had the same reaction to Liam Gallagher if he’d left a £50 tip to the waitress at a cafe? I suspect not.

  • Judith Haire

    I hope the Big Issue in question was the one guest edited by ABC Tales.
    Liam G can’t do right for doing wrong, leave the chap alone, he’s being whole hearted and positive which in my book is good role model material.

  • derek

    I watched QT last night, and a couple of things struck me. One was John Sergeant’s suck up to Blair (I had no idea he was a nulab toady), and the ever appalling jacqui smith’s ritual humiliation.

    It would be an outrage for Blair to become the president – but hey, the Left have become genius in the art of double standards.

    I have no idea what version of QT Campbell watched, it must have been in an alternative universe.

  • Blackacre

    Why can’t we have an election for el presidente? It should not be decided in rooms and corridors in the European capitals but give the EU some democratic legitimacy it so needs. I might even vote for Blair.

  • Polly Harper

    Couldn’t Mr Sergeant come back and replace Nick ‘Look at Me’ Robinson? If I have to see that smirk through a whole election campaign I may have to get a postal vote and live abroad for a few weeks

  • Mark \’Elvis\’ Wright

    The EU leaders are behaving like a load of middle managers desperately trying to protect their influence in an ever expanding company. Yes they know they need a strong figurehead who can pack a punch in the broader market. No they don’t want someone with such a strong personality that it has the potential to drown out their own.


    So by all means elect the Latvian Prime Minister who will no doubt satisfy the middle-managers of Europe with his nice, safe and unimposing presence. But don’t start whinging like a 3 year old who can’t get the attention of the favourite uncle with the sweets when you discover that the EU STILL lacks a powerful presence on the world stage!

  • Alex Sewell

    Maybe it has been said but it occured to me last night (& excuse me if I am late on realising this) that the core reason that the Tories don’t want Blair as President of the European Coucil is simply because this is likely to strengthen Brown’s chances of an election victory, in the sense that Brown is likely to win more concensions for Europe via Blair than Cameron is. Having a direct link to TB must be a huge USP for Brown. Brown’s argument might be vote Brown and have greater influence in Europe, vote Cameron and (as Cameron doesn’t want to deal with Blair)have less influence! Something on those lines. Why is this not being voiced? Too early?

  • Mark \’Elvis\’ Wright

    Come on ‘El_Villano’, if one were to chose a week to spend in anyone’s company I reckon Berlusconi would be up there with the best. He’s sort of like a low-grade Hugh Heffner with hair-plugs.

    What would you rather do, hang out with Gordon at the nature reserve pointing at ducks?

    And don’t forget TB also stayed at Sir Cliff’s place also. Anyone who can call those two very disparate people friends could probably set up a dinner date between Jesus and the Devil (and get them exchanging business cards and singing sea shanties by the end).

  • Alex Sewell

    Why would it be an outrage Derek? Would you prefer a foreign national than a Brit? I find that just weird actually. Cutting off your ear to spite your face.

  • Charlie Reynolds

    It’s all going wrong in Euroland then? It is not that TB went it alone on the Iraq war, it’s that he was such a ‘hawk’. He is so inextricably linked to Bush that many millions of people in the world literally loathe him. As a result we are loathed too. In fact since Obama was elected we have become the focus of this hate. Thanks Tony. The British people don’t want TB to be president either! Incredible that we would turn down one of our own being El presidente. We must really distrust him. Can’t think why? Maybe we are all just ungrateful B****rds?

    Milliband refuses to apologise to the Poles despite insulting them. It must be wrong for a Foreign Secretary to damage our relationships with other countries for the sake of his party political purposes? Or maybe you don’t think so?

    Jacqui Smith should be hounded out of Parliament. Didn’t she lie about how many nights she spent at each residence? Only to be caught out by the police protection officer records? She should resign and pay back all the money she took. Perhaps it could be used to help fund her local Hospice or something worthwhile.

    In relation to the Liam G thing, given your previous history is this some attempt to give him positive news space? God only knows.

  • Alex Sewell

    No, it’s all going wrong in England if Cameron gets in, as it did the last time the Tories were in.
    We are not hated anymore now around the world than we ever have been and before Iraq TB was probably THE most popular British PM since Churchill.
    A lot of Tories should be hounded out of Parliament too for their moats and duck pond antics.
    And why not give positive press to a positive act? Maybe there’s still hope for Liam Gallagher 🙂

  • Bar Bar of Oz

    Is there any bar in London where an Australian can go and talk about Tony Blair all night with other afficionados?

    And, “Elvis”, I can’t get enough of Berlusconi either. What is the common denominator operating here?

    The advantage for the British people in Tony being EU Pres, of course, is the opportunity it gives to secede to the EU rather than having to endure Cameron/Hague or another five years of Gordon.

  • Jane A

    It would be a good thing if TB got the Pres job. It’s about time people started looking forward to the benefits and insight he would bring rather than looking back in anger all the time. Vive le Blair. (Encore).

  • Charlie Reynolds

    Alex – I agree there are Tory, Lib dem, SNP, SinnFein, UUP etc MPs who should be hounded too. It is shameful how they have acted and they must go. BTW what’s happening with the A-G?

    I also agree that Liam G’s act sounds very positive etc. It is not the act or Liam G who is the problem here – it’s AC and I do not trust his motives. Experience teaches me this much.

    I am saddened to say we are hated more than we have ever been around the world. We are hated for the Iraq war in particular. John Major would not have gone to war in those circumstances (nor Callaghan/Wilson/Macmillan/Churchill etc). Mind you neither would George Bush senior.

    I remember the last Tory government and I have few concerns about a new Tory government under Cameron. it is going to be necessary to sort out the mess. Things can’t continue as they are. Of course the current elite/establishment are either desperately changing sides or desperately trying to gain power wherever they can.

    Can you imagine how you would shout if the Tories were in now and had left the country with the gap between rich and poor wider than ever before. Unemployment at over 5 million. The largest national debt in history. More people leaving school unable to read and write. The list goes on and on. You should know it if you only opened your eyes. You are blinded by loyalty to a party which has deserted it’s raison d’etre and abandoned it’s principles and then wants to tell those people who no longer feel supported that they are racists and homophobes because they vote BNP in desperation.

    Open your eyes. Labour has failed comprehensively on every level. It is time to move on. It is only a political party and the play thing of the elite. Labour need to get back to their roots and come back for an election in 2014/15 or at least 2018/19. Let’s never have one party in power for more than 2 elections at a time ever again.

    As for being sad the tories will glory in having the olympics which were all TB’s work! Ha! Jeez – what about Labour benefitting from a sound and growing economy in 97. The Olympics are small fry!!!

    I for one can’t wait for the revolution. Off with their heads (metaphorically) I reckon. You included AC.

  • Stan Rosenthal

    If there are any other reasonable people out there who are as fed up as I am about war criminal charges being made against Tony Blair to stop his bid for the EU post I suggest they get it off their chests by signing the Ban Blair-baiting petition at, which has already been signed by Oliver Kamm, John Rentoul,Tom Harris MP, and Sedgefield’s Paul Trippett and John Burton. How about you Alastair?

  • Trevor Malcolm, Portsmouth Hampshire



    Had a first look at your FaceBook pages, in response to the content of your blog, (dated 29 October 2009) and discovered, to my surprise, however well-reasoned the contributor’s point of view, one or two contrarians seemed hell-bent, at all costs, on shooting all and sundry, down in flames, regardless of reasonableness. Scarey stuff

    So, in contrast to the laidback approach of saloon singer, Mr Tony Bennett, I had naively expected – some variation on his “ …Thank y’all, just for comin’ by” … “ – imagine my excitement at finding my poke-around to hear the opinions of your FaceBook Friends reminded me of my boyhood trip to the Big Top circus tent, to enjoy laughing at the clowns jumping up to perform and draw more attention to themselves. A total scream, thank you all

    Loud and virulent, one or two seemed intolerant of EVERYONE who had the temerity and arrogant brassneck to hold an opinion, differing from their own. Those who took time out to share and comment, got greeted by a shrill, graceless, ill-mannered riposte, damning their very souls to hell, forever

    What worried me, bearing in mind we believe you to be a gentleman of inscrutably good taste and discernment, I felt non-plussed to find your FaceBook the ideal locale for meeting those who wish to witness, what Eckhart Tolle refers to as, “ … an inability to accommodate a conflicting narrative point of view … “ ie they can’t stand ANYBODY disagreeing with their own dogged opinion, as if their two-penny worth needs must be revered like Holy Scripture by the rest of us, whilst others are best ignored or, better, marched off to the nearest gas-chamber

    Guess it figures: they think every Labour-favourable comment must’ve got posted by the Village Idiot (only criterion, that you choose to disagree with what someone else thinks, however politely, temperately and agreeably expressed

    Still, here’s your best bet for eavesdropping on the incessant jabber that goes on between folks’ ears, the habitual, compulsive thinking of their divisive minds

    Yes, please plonk comments on AC’s FaceBook, that’s where to assemble, now that Hyde Park’s Speakers Corner soapboxes have been vetoed as dangerously-constructed by EU health and safety directives

    I loved it all. Jeez, I felt juiced, emotionally juiced; to think, nowadays, everybody seems to consider they hold “expert opinion” about everything, no matter how trivial the topic. Should a popstar gift £50 cash to a Big Issue vendor? Now, that’ll stir up a hornet’s nest of heated and divisive debate, won’t it? Sure did, you bet

    For example, one chap posted TEN TIMES, all within a few hours, demolishing the arguments of any “FB friend” who so much as felt the Labour Party even fit for consideration, on anything at all

    I gather even the Party’s very existence pained and upset him. But, to judge from his command of the Queen’s English and the self-restrained, level-headedness of his replies to innocent comments, I’m convinced wise-owl Mr Cameron will appoint someone that feisty and outspoken as Tory Head of Comms and Intel, to exterminate all Labour voters. Abit like a Tory twist on Dr Who’s Daleks

    Silly me, believing DC’d be smarter appointing that courteous Mr Iain Dale, political activist supreme, if only to prove a non-ranting, forward-thinking and productive dialogue would still be possible, regardless of General Election results next year

    If not, are you able to divulge which cliff-face we must all jump off, to satisfy Tory whim, sir? Must you double-decker bus us all to the Tower of London for mass-beheading? Then, a photo-opportunity for you – plop, plop – the sound of you brandishing a copy of the novel “All in the Mind” in one hand, whilst you throw our severed heads into the Thames, with the other. That visual a stunt should shift a few more copies, easy

    Boy, I’ve not relished such a demonstration of graceless, ill-mannered stroppiness, this “chipshop politics” since a fundraising Charity Cricket Match, many seasons ago, when dour Yorkshire cricket warriors, captain Brian Close and paceman F S Trueman (you know, “Fiery Fiona” … )

    … Er, sorry, Ms Millar, ma’am: genuine but careless Freudian slip o’ the tongue, there. My countless apologies. Won’t happen again, I swear …

    … Closey and F S spent ages squabbling over mid-off being a few yards too deep to save the single. Seems like everything, even stuff as dull as politics, is now taken that wrongheadedly serious, pity

    Being a shallow lightweight myself, and therefore over-sensitive to the querulous and fractious, I still prefer the happy-clappy, good news and funstuff best. But at least I’ve learned the quorum of “friends” on your FaceBook clearly ISN’T the ideal port-of-call, to find it. As the maxim goes: “ … with friends like that, who … etc … “

    Trevor Malcolm
    Portsmouth, Hampshire



  • Trickie Dickie

    History will show that Tony Blair was right to support the USA in the Iraq war……hindsight is great but think back and follow the chronological evidence. A dictator killing his own people, fighting wars with his neigbours, claiming in one breath he had the means to destroy Israel at will and another denying his nuclear ambition, playing fast and loose with weapons inspectors. Giving the UN the run around. Postruring to the Arab world and insinuating he had weapons that would wipe the western world off the planet. (just for one minute imagine he was still there posturing and threatening all around him with Iran, as they ARE doing developing a nuclear bomb…how safe would you feel?????)
    Intelligence reports now found to be wrong that were sexed up not by Blair but by those Iraqi exiles who wanted the west to install them as the next power in the country.
    Yes we were hoodwinked. G Bush and T Blair were conned and as a result we were conned…..this was not deliberate TB wanting to kill and murder He thought (genuinely) that we were under threat. Post 9/11 the whole world looked very different and today it seems to the ordinary man in the street it was a fuss about.. not very much… However imagine the world had it gone the other way!
    TB was and is the greatest statesman this country has ever produced…..even Churchill does not come close.
    If the Tory party could; they would have snapped TB up as quick as a flash to have him as their leader. So feared was he that they tried three times to find someone who could imitate him without success. Cameron is a veneer and a wannabe Blair.
    Ask any Tory what they feared most and it was Tony Blair, ask them what the are most grateful for during his premiership and they will tell you the Iraq war. without the war he would still be PM and looking at another term.
    Kelly took his own life, not because of actions of the governement but because he was betrayed by a journalist..No not the one youre thinking but the woman who taped his off the record conversations, he feared more revelations she had possibly taped. She betrayed him not Gilligan.
    So would TB be a good figure head for the EU well every right minded person would have to say yes.
    Politics is a dirty game and getting worse, apart from a brief period under TB the integrety and honesty has been lost. Career politicians who with a safe seat can play the game and milk the system. Time for fixed term MP’s two terms and then your out back to the real world.
    TB a War criminal? I dont think so
    Man of conviction and honour….yes certainly.

  • Alan Quinn

    AC, I disagree with you about the Olympics because as usual everything is LondonCentric. Every bit of funding is being sucked up by London to the detriment of the whole of the UK, we keep being told that this is the British games but apart from the sailing at Dorset the rest of the country gets nowt.

  • Alex Sewell

    Charlie, 1) Who really cares what Liam Gallagher gives to The Big Issue seller. The point I was making is that it’s arguably a good thing to do. Personally I have better things to think about than whether or not AC has an underlying motive. Don’t read his blog if what he writes effects you so much. 2) In the majority of cases it is the system that is to blame re expenses, change that and the problems ends. 3) John Major did go to war against Iraq 4) I keep saying it but on the whole the UK is a far far better place to live compared to Tory days 5)Unemployment has not hit Tory levels, at least two boom and busts under Tory vs 1 GLOBAL bust under Labour.6) Re child poverty, this must improve but would have got worse under Tories not better. 7 Education has improved dramatically since Labour came to power 8) Labour ‘earned’ my loyalty, I didn’t give it blindly and the Tories lost it when they were in power and are very unlikely to re-gain it because I do not agree with their core value of rolling back the state 9) Who’s sad about the Tories benefitiing from the Olympic Games? Petty stuff. And yes I agree; Labour did benefit from Major’s final economic policies, and they went on to build on it which has benefitted all. 10) The ‘revolution’ started when Blair came to power. 11) Quite honestly, I am rather bored of this conversation now and feel a bit bad for ranting on for so long. Cheers.