Ghost at the Feast gets Busted

In the past week Tony Blair has grabbed a snatch of headlines for returning to the political fray with his plan to control immigration and still keep the UK in Europe. But if he was expecting a chorus of trumpets and a rallying cry of “huzzah!” from the anti-Brexiteers, he didn’t get it.

The expression ‘ghost at the feast’ comes from the Shakespeare play Macbeth, and refers to the spirit of the Banquo turning up at the celebratory bash hosted by the man who murdered him. It is a phrase uttered in allusion to guilt at a time of supposed enjoyment.

Tony Blair has made something of a habit of looming, spectre like, out from the shadows. He did it during the election campaign – refusing to back Jeremy Corbyn and calling for voters to vote for any anti-Brexit candidate on the ballot (although he did not extrapolate on Lord Buckethead’s position) – and he has done it again now.

Timing his pro-EU charge to coincide with the parliamentary reading of the Great Repeal Bill, he took to the pages of The Sunday Times and Andrew Marr’s sofa to offer a vision. Said vision was officialised in a paper from his own think tank, The Tony Blair Institute For Global Change, which carries the tagline (ironic or a copyright issue?) ‘Making globalisation work for the many.’

The problem is that few Brits really care about what Mr Blair has to say any more. His periodic ghost at the feast routine raises little of the intended guilt and instead feels more like the poltergeist who causes some unwelcome mischief and refuses to leave (broadcaster Nick Ferrari likened him to a bad smell). The Labour party don’t want him, the British electorate don’t want him and no doubt a number of Eurocrats don’t want him either, because he is the one person (apart from Eddie Izzard) who can pop up and damage the Remain argument by association.

It must be hard for Tony Blair on a political level. He seemed poised for big things when he swept into Number 10 as the sun shone and the crowds cheered in May 1997. The sense of hope that he and New Labour imbued was just the tonic after a generation of Conservatism had cast a grey shadow across the land. However, by the end of his reign the Iraq war had sullied his name and the 2 million+ immigrants he opened the door to prompted the unwelcome apparition of Gillian Duffy at Labour’s election feast in 2010, in hindsight a significant flag point on the road map to Brexit.

It must be hard for Tony Blair on a personal level too. This is a man who has great vision but is flawed by hubris, seeing himself as central to any vision coming to pass. The author, and one time friend, Robert Harris called him a narcissist with a Messiah complex for turning his back on parliament and hanging out with the rich and famous rather than hanging on in there for the political long term. And it is this aspect of the Blair character that makes him so unpalatable to the many still.

So, rather tragically, Mr Blair is destined to keep trying to jump in and hope that others will eagerly rush to follow, because he still believes that his way is the right way. And he will continue to fall flat as a result. By offering a Mea Culpa of sorts for his open door policy and talking tough on immigration now merely smacks of chutzpah. Time has moved on and the Labour Party has moved on too with a leader that prefers cycling to his allotment with a packet of Hobnobs rather than jetting off to St Tropez to hobnob with some Big Potatoes.

Oh poor Tony. If only he could be happy in life as a former PM… like David Cameron for example. While Mr Blair was wading through Brexit porridge, ‘Dave’ was guest of honour at the 1922 backbenchers committee. “The only two things I’ve got headlines for were buying a shed and having a fag,” he quipped to warm applause. Maybe Tony Blair should take up smoking…

Luan de Burgh

September 2017

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.