Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Campbell, Tony Blair, and the Rolling Stones

Alistair Campbell's resignation last week was universally considered a key moment in British politics. The reason why, was this: he provided a number of personality traits that Tony Blair never had and never will have, with the advantage that being an appointee rather than a civil servant or minister, he could be disposed of more easily. If there is one thing that Blair will never be described as, it is macho. I wasn't at all surprised to read on the day after Ali C's departure that Blair's nickname at school was Emily. In fact, I was reduced to embarrassing fits of laughter, but I wasn't at all surprised. All that pastels-and-church-and-babies-and-I'm such a nice and caring guy y'know kitsch. All the grinning. The attraction was clear - Blair to do the direct appeal, pressing the flesh, gurning on tv, Campbell to browbeat the crumpled suit hacks. He would provide the mach, but there is more to this than political tactics. Tony Blair is a very specific type of middle-class Englishman. The type I mean pops up frequently in the culture; educated, liberal, rather apologetic about their nice middle-classness because the fear it somehow detracts from their masculinity. Martin Amis's books are laden with them (in fact, he is another dead fit for this label) - the impotent writer in The Information, John Self's various targets in Money, very probably the bloke with a funny name in the new one. And the story about shitting in your flares in Experience. Is this why literary people (a hotbed of the breed) have such tiresome rows?

A basic feature of this condition in severe cases is the need for reinvention - searching your background for grit, taking up aggressive sports, leaving the country - anything to claim a spot of the mach. And one of the classics of this is rock and roll. British bands have always been littered with them ever since the Rolling Stones - Mick Jagger of LSE is their God - especially because rock tradition permits a certain degree of mystery about your past to be maintained. Blair fits the profile beautifully, from the story about watching Jackie Milburn playing for Newcastle and the one about running away to Jamaica (or perhaps only Heathrow) via being called Emily at Fettes College to working in a bar in Paris and - what else? - forming a band. Called Ugly Rumours - note the striving for dirt in the name. Another characteristic is a need for approval from the kind of men they think they want to be, which shows in Blair's attachment both to Ali C and to the various intelligence spooks who now form the inner circle.

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