Will Blair run?

The battle lines over the future of the UK in Europe are been drawn up around Tony Blair’s so far shadow candidacy for the post of President of the Council under the Lisbon treaty. Gordon Brown has set aside the old personal rivalry to launch a campaign for him, if Blair says the word. Brown’s main reason surely, is less a new found love of Tony than a chance to exploit Cameron’s hopeless muddle over Britain’s place in Europe and to present Labour to its EU partners and its own voters as the pragmatic party of Europe. If Blair loses, Brown can blame Cameron for failing unpatriotically to back a fellow Brit ( and one supported by the Irish incidentally). The politics of the new presidency all are wildly complicated and far from a shoo-in for Blair, as the Irish Times points out. Is it conceivable that Sarkozy, Merkel et al would back Blair in direct defiance of Cameron’s wishes, assuming he wins power next summer – a few months into the new reformed presidency? Perhaps, if they feel that the Conservatives are placing themselves beyond the European pale, but this is hardly the way to nudge them back into the fold. It’s interesting to note how leading Eurosceptic and Europhil papers are split between their political reporting and comment in the issue. The Guardian reports the pressure building on Blair to announce his candidacy, backed by Brown’s key staff, while George Monbiot in Comment is Free hysterically damns the former PM as a mass murderer and liar over Iraq. After highlighting Cameron’s opposition to an “ all singing, all dancing” Presidente Blair, the generally anti –EU Telegraph carries columnist Mary Riddell, ( no card carrying Tory and appealing to a wider readership) supporting Blair as the best hope of transforming Europe, while Andrew Pierce leads a mildly favourable discussion on Blair’s possible role. What’s going on in the Torygraph? Is the prospect of a Briton becoming top European dog ” able to stop the traffic”, of greater reader appeal that old-school Tory little Englandism?” Meanwhile the excellent Euractiv network, reporting the wider debate beyond the parochial British focus, says many States are looking for weakish council president coming maybe from the centre right, to avoid confusion with the re-elected commission president Barosso, and weaker than the proposed new foreign high representative, who might come from the centre left (Miliband, currently Blair’s cheerleader for the top job?). I told you it was complicated.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London