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.