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January 28, 2008

Gordon to Tony: I beg you, please don't take top EU job

Posted by Hector Boffey

The following transcript of a letter from the Prime Minister to Tony Blair has been passed to Hector Boffey, the Social Affairs Unit's distinguished Political Editor. While the Social Affairs Unit cannot vouch for its authenticity we believe it casts an interesting light on British politics.

Dear Tony,

The world and his friend know I would not needlessly stand in the way of your ambition. I proved that beyond any reasonable doubt a long time ago.

So I hope that you and Cherie will understand that the heart-felt advice that follows is not motivated by resentment or a desire for revenge for having been kept waiting interminably for the keys to Number Ten. True, I can't help feeling that many of the problems I now face would not exist if you had quit the national political stage rather earlier. But that is by the by.

My advice - earnest entreaty is perhaps a better term - is that you abandon your mistaken campaign to become the first President of the European Union, and that you immediately make it clear that you have done so.

I believe that the consequences of your persisting in this aim could be catastrophic - for both us.

The media reptiles have been uncharacteristically slow, but Ian Davidson, a trouble-making eurosceptic Labour backbencher provided a foretaste of the troubles that are to come if you persist in this mistaken ambition when he asked me in the House:

Were the Prime Minister and this Government aware of his predecessor's plan to attend the conference of the main French Right to announce his candidacy for the European Union, the presidency of the world, the universe and everything? Did the Prime Minister know of that candidacy when his predecessor was negotiating the European Constitution, and did that not represent a conflict of interest?
Believe me, Tony that question is going to be repeated over and again. How can I conceivably provide an answer which in the present climate is judged to be both honest and credible?

The process of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty has just started. Every aspect of that document along with the events that led up to it will be debated day-in day-out for a month.

As you will recall, I had to intervene to prevent Sarko from deleting the reference to market economics after you had declared yourself to be more than content with the text. And I had to insist on more stringent red lines. Not withstanding these face-saving cosmetics I doubt whether even a quarter of the Parliamentary Labour Party believes that there are meaningful differences between the present treaty text and Giscard's original.

Then there's the little matter of Britain's budget contribution. Against my advice you meekly agreed to a reduction in the rebate of £1 billion in return for what you said would be a radical reform of the CAP. There has been no reform and no sign of reform. Meanwhile Sarko has committed himself to preserving the CAP in perpetuity. Some deal!

No wonder that the official spokesman at the Elysee has been informing the British press: "Sarko loves Tony". Needless to say, Sarko's feelings for me are said to be of an altogether different kind.

Now, I honestly don't know when you first began thinking about laying claim for the top EU job, but rumours to that effect have been circulating for at least two years.

And the problem which arises here is not just about past clashes of interest. Supposing you get the job. There are bound to be clashes of national and EU interests in the future. You will deny that any such differences exist and talk loftily of shared values and common aspirations. You are very good at that sort of thing, but in the end you will have will have to make difficult choices. In whose interests, Tony?

After the Bernie Ecclestone affair, dodgy dossiers, the Iraq war, the cash-for-honours controversy and Scotland Yard's visits to Number Ten do you believe that British public will be inclined to accept that your are acting assurances that they are acting in their best interests? Or will they conclude they are being sold down the river so that you may continue on your upwardly mobile path?

Having been Prime Minister for ten years you know more state secrets than any one. You know where the bodies are buried and how to call in favours. In whose service will this information be used?

Given the present climate it is surely only a matter of time before some Tory MP asks me to refer your current job application to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. You will remember that the part of its remit dealing with the careers of ex-ministers is intended to allay suspicions that:

(a) the statements and decisions of a serving minister might be influenced by the hope or expectation of future employment with a particular firm or organisation;

(b) an employer could make improper use of official information to which a former Minister has had access.

The committee's Guidelines make it clear that in determining whether a former minister should accept a position in business or elsewhere it may be necessary to ask:

To what extent, if at all, has the former Minister been in a position which could lay him or her open to the suggestion that the appointment was in some way a reward for past favours?

Note that it is not necessary to form a judgement about whether a minister has behaved improperly or is likely to do so - only that an ex-minister should not take on employment in circumstances where there might be reasonable grounds for supposing that he might have behaved badly or that he will do so.

Tony, you may currently be in pole position for the EU Presidency. But the rules make it abundantly clear you cannot and should not be a candidate.

Consider for a moment the predicament in which you place me. If I refuse to back your bid to become EU President, or if I refer the matter to Advisory Committee, I will look sour and vengeful. If I support it, some will suspect that this part of a sordid back-room deal struck between us for our own personal advantage.

This is not the first time you have left me in the merde and during dark moments of the soul I sometimes feel that that is my destiny. But for you to persist in this folly would, I think, be deeply mistaken.

The matter could, however, be resolved if you were to announce that in order to uphold the highest standards of public life you had decided to abandon this ambition and intended to concentrate your laudable - indeed noble if probably futile - attempts to bring peace to the Middle East.

I know that you feel that you have outgrown national politics and in the post-modern post-democratic world we live in the old conventions donít apply. But I also know that you have always been concerned about your place in history. If eurosceptic opinion in this country hardens in the coming years many will view your role as that of a Quisling. It is the destiny of prophets to be reviled in their own country even while acclaimed in others, but a false prophet runs the risk of universal opprobrium.

So do please do reconsider - for both our sakes.

Yours ever

Gordon


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