Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it

Lance Price, formerly Number 10’s deputy communications adviser, publishes his memoirs soon.

Among the fragrant stories, including Tony Blair’s love for the valleys (“Fucking Welsh”), we have this touching encounter:

Asking his assistant about his sexuality – Price is gay – the prime minister said: “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but when you see a beautiful woman, doesn’t it do anything for you?”

Isn’t that sweet? Parents, worried your son might be a chutney ferret? A night out with Tony down at Spearmint Rhino and a subscription to Razzle will sort him out.

Tony, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but when you see a democratic, accountable government in action, doesn’t it do anything for you? Or are just more in touch with your despotic side than us real democrats?

Then I suppose, we all do things when we’re drunk right? I remember one night, coming back from the pub after a few drinks, me and my mate Frank ended up back at his place planning to bomb a Middle Eastern country in the face of massive public opposition. Could happen to anybody. Doesn’t mean I’m autocratic though, does it?

On the whole though, this story just gives us another glimpse into the retardation of Blair’s personality. He doesn’t understand homosexuality, hasn’t any real insight, and has a sneaking suspicion that all gay men need is a bit of T&A to bring them back to his team. You could call it wilful ignorance but it’s a little more sinister then that. It’s a blind eye in the knowledge that if he knew the whole truth it would get him into trouble. An understanding or even (whisper is) an empathy with homosexual would be a ringing clash with his Anglo-Catholicism, making him complicit in something immoral.

It’s much like his attitude towards torture: as long as he doesn’t know too much about what goes in the countries to which we’re deporting people, he can keep his hands clean (“Two words, Mr President. Plausible deniability.”). It’s the moral failing that allowed him to say, “This is crazy. Why can’t we press on?“, when told that Egyptian asylum seekers could face torture and death if deported from the UK.

The childlike aspect of all this is the most chilling. You can imagine Blair and Alastair Campbell exchanging off-colour banter about Price and his sexuality. You can almost hear the petulant whine in Blair’s voice – “Why can’t these men be sent back?” – like a spoilt toddler demanding another glass of Sunny Delight.

I have an insatiable, morbid fascination with the moral failings of Blair. It’s not so much a capacity for evil that lets him do what he does but a weary petulance that sees morality and specific human lives as barriers to him achieving what he wants. I don’t know enough about past prime ministers to compare, maybe many of them had this breathtakingly cavalier attitude towards life, but in this day and age where politicians are scutinised like never before, I’m ceaselessly amazed at his ability to slip free every time, whether it be from his casual homophobia or having a number in his head that represents acceptable civilian deaths in a far off country.

It’s not just a dry argument about the machinations of high politics and the pragmatic decisions taken by men with access to frightening information. It’s there for all to see how politics directly impact on people’s lives. You don’t have to be a gay adviser, an Egyptian asylum seeker, a recipient of benefits or a pensioner in a private nursing home to feel the breeze. To many of us political geeks, politics isn’t a game of chess, it’s like watching a fight in a pub: the blows are real and somebody’s going home in an ambulance.

Many in the white middle classes are insulated from the failings of New Labour; that’s how they can bring themselves to vote New Labour time and time again. But this constituency is being chipped away. Today we find it’s the turn of diabetics, half of who aren’t receiving the eye care that may save their sight. I bet there aren’t many people who don’t know of someone who’s had MRSA. What next? Where’s all the money gone? To paraphrase Neil Kinnock, don’t be old, sick, non-white or poor in the UK. Try with all your strength to be white, middle-class, reasonably affluent and complacent. The irreducible core of New Labour support, if you like.

That core is getting smaller all the time, whether through apathy or personal grievance. Middle England won’t maintain New Labour forever because their simply won’t be enough votes there.

  1. Johnny the Horse said:

    Tony Blair asked a gay man if he didn’t feel something when he saw a beautiful woman? Well, there’s a basis for a rant against an entire system of government for you, if ever I heard one! My God, the sheer evil of the man! That’s almost like murder, that is.
    My wife’s an NHS ophthalmologist and the problem with diabetics is not resources, it’s organisation, which frankly is crap. Incompetent people with lovely natures doing a bad job for very little money and nobody – particularly the managers supposed actually to be managing – geting a grip and sorting it out.
    Sod it, though – let’s blame anyone except those who are actually doing the crap job in the first place. That’s middle-class Britain for you – blame the government! The National Mummy isn’t making us happy, so what do we do? We scream blue murder everytime they try to make anything actually work by, for instance, setting targets, and if they ever do manage to improve anything we scream even louder that they’ve just FIDDLED THE FIGURES.
    I know people who work on sink estates trying to help people spend government money on improving their environment. It’s good stuff, it actually happens, the people who benefit don’t in large numbers vote, either Labour or anything else. They’re certainly not middle class.
    So many of the people on working family tax credit, or whatever it’s called now, are genuinely better off with money redistributed from the wealthier end of society. What’s middle-class about that?
    And I think you’ll find that asylum seekers and immigration are issues that arouse passions mostly where the new-comers actually live – ie in working class areas. It’s a very middle class game to prove your personal morality by shouting loud about the wicked way we have with these people, but it’s nothing to do with the real work of trying to keep the peace while doing the right thing, which can involve hard and undesirable choices.
    Still, I’ve said enough for all the good I’ve done. Back to work…

  2. Justin said:

    The moral failings at the heart of this government emanate from Blair. His lies, his evasions, his double standards, his intellectual sloth and his vanity have all infected the body politic. A fish rots from the head down as the the cliche says.

    You say an ignorant and casually homophobic comment is a poor launch pad for a rant against the government whereas I think it’s a chilling indication of the thought processes of a man who controls two of the three branches of government with an iron fist and is looking to give the third a good kicking.

    You extol the virtues of tax credits and other baubles which only leads me to surmise that you’ve never had to subsist on them. I’ve have, and let me tell you, the welfare and benefit system in this country has evolved little since the classic poverty trap of the Thatcherite 80s. I wouldn’t wish Britain’s welfare system on Jonathan King.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at when you say “I think you’ll find that asylum seekers and immigration are issues that arouse passions mostly where the new-comers actually live – ie in working class areas”. It’s the working class’s fault if these guys go home to torture, is it? Are Gary and Tracey Sink Estate frog-marching these people back to Algeria and Egypt? Do you know what moral agency is, Johnny the Horse?

    I like the way you categorise sending people back to regimes that practice torture as “trying to keep the peace while doing the right thing”. You don’t work in the Downing Street press office, do you?

  3. Paddy Carter said:

    hmm. I think I know one or two heterosexual men that have trouble really believing that other men don’t, you know, feel anything when they, like, see a really fit bird. I think I can remember one or two women friends expressing wonder that lesbians don’t, you know, sometimes just want a bit of cock.

    Perhaps they are a bit innocent, a bit dim, perhaps they haven’t thought about it too hard, or perhaps they haven’t spent enough time in the company of gay men or women.

    It’s not obvious to me that Blair’s comment is “casually homophobic” or a “chilling indication” of anything very much. It does not imply, to my mind, that he thinks gay men just need a bit of T&A.

    Can’t say I think the standard of analysis in the rest of your post, or comments, is much higher.

    You have flecks of spittle on your monitor, I suspect.

  4. Justin said:

    Ah Paddy, and you were doing so well before giving in to the Ad Hominem at the end.

    No cookie for you.

  5. Paddy Carter said:

    fair comment. rephrased: How can you expect to have a reasonble and worthwhile take on anything the government does when you have developed such an unreasoning hatred for its leader? Take, for example, your perception of our Tony’s views and actions to do with torture, or on what Labour has done with the welfare state. Neither come across, to me, as reasoned informed opinions based on a knowledge and understanding of available choices and their consequences and the constraints being operated under. They come across as point of view that has been unhinged by your, erm, Baysian Priors.

  6. Paddy Carter said:

    anyway, it’s not really ad hominem accusing you of foaming at little is it?

  7. Jarndyce said:

    What sort of knowledge and understanding of available choices do you need, Paddy, to think rendering suspects to third countries for torture is wrong? Not only illegal and immoral, but also stupid. Since it hasn’t been denied, and has been reported from a number of independent sources, we can probably assume it is happening. So, what extra context do we need for that? Our international treaty obligations to desist from torture? Or a little more…?

  8. Justin said:

    Sorry Paddy, the damage is done. Where’s the satisfaction for me in trying to engage with someone like you and your high-handed cobblers?

    I write for The Sharpener to engage in intelligent, sometimes lighthearted, debate not to take personal stick. For fun. You’re no fun.

    Try again on the next piece I write. On this one, you’re not welcome.

  9. Paddy Carter said:


    Well, first and foremost you need to know if “rendering suspects to third countries for torture” is an accurate description, and all there was to it.

    If it is, you not going to get much of an argument from me over the rights and wrongs of it – that Guardian article certainly doesn’t give much room seeing Blair in any other light (“can’t we just press on”) – maybe he really didn’t think or care about what was going to happen to these people if they were sent back to Egypt.

    Or maybe he did. Of how many countries in the Middle East could it be said that suspects “could be tortured”? You may argue that is enough to conclude that no suspects should ever be deported to any of those countries, no matter what they are accused of, no matter what co-operation we need from the Middle Eastern countries in question, regardless of any other consideration.
    How about sending a Beslan suspect back to Russia (if there are any left) or what if one of the people behind that recent Sharm el Shiek bombing found their way to the UK? If there are acceptable exceptions, then we need more information to make a judgement.

    The Guardian article does not make us aware of any possible mitigating circumstances, any background into why Blair was pushing for deportation, other than he doesn’t seem to give a shit and thinks it’s needed for the “war on terror”. Perhaps there was no more to it than that, but it looks like a caricature to me. What other advice had he been given? How likely was it that these guys would be tortured? What else was at stake?

    Anyway, I don’t know, perhaps I picked a very poor example and Tony Blair should be unambiguously condemned for his dealings on this matter. I didn’t know the background to Justin’s reference to torture before I wrote, so my bad, as they say.

    Still I believe that a lot of people are ready with extreme opinions on issues where they really know very little about, and that problem is exacerbated by passionate feelings, either way, about the people involved.

    I reckon Justin’s views on T Blair was expressed in these posts are an example of that.

  10. Paddy Carter said:

    ffs justin. you just want to have intelligent debate and a bit of fun, but I mention spittle on the monitor, and gosh darn it I’ve just gone and over stepped the mark haven’t I? It’s not fun any more. You shall not stoop to respond. High handed cobblers, eh?

  11. Justin said:

    My last word, Paddy: While I write for personal satisfaction, I also write for free. My time is precious and so I choose carefully those I wish to spend it with. By deciding to insult me, you didn’t make that list.

    There is a certain etiquette to all this, much like real life. If you spoke to me like that in a pub, I’d go and sit somewhere else.

  12. Well I thought your post was not only laugh-out-loud funny, but also spot on, but then what do I know? That line about the Egyptian asylum seekers (“Why can’t we press on?”) encapsulates so much of what makes Blair such a cynical, unthinking front bottom, and of the way his brand of Diana-esque, touchy-feely-yet-boot-stamping-on-a-human-face-forever-y poison has infected political, public and personal discourse in this country.

    Anyway, his reaction to Price’s sexual persuasion, as well as being straight out of Little Britain, does rather lead one to the conclusion that Blair probably fancies a pork sword up his behind too.

  13. Paddy Carter said:

    For the life of me, the only real rudeness I can see in my comments was:

    “Can’t say I think the standard of analysis in the rest of your post, or comments, is much higher.

    You have flecks of spittle on your monitor, I suspect.”

    That is an insult, but I had thought it was the kind of thing you’d take in your stride. Cut & thrust and all that.

    I should apologise, but I’m finding it difficult because the way you responded got right up my nose too. Still, either way, the first fault was mine, so I’ll take my pint over to the other side of the pub, and reflect on the error of my ways.

    shame really, becuase I’d have liked to have seen you respond to the points I had to make.

  14. Paddy, while you are sat over there by the fag machine, try talking to some people who know, who have seen with their own eyes what torture is. Not the poor sods whose scars you so easily dismiss, but cogs in the Establishment machinery. I’ve been in touch with spooks, diplomats, senior military, senior civil servants and psychiatrists and they were all with Justin.

    Except they generally get much more spittle and some spleen on their monitors, made Justin’s rather jocular hatred of Blair’s poor judgement look amateur and used word such as psychopathy, pointing out which of the criteria for diagnosis Blair’s particular personality traits fullfilled.

  15. Paddy Carter said:

    bedblogger, I don’t think I fit that template you had ready for me there.

  16. Well, Paddy, I’ll try to “respond to the points [you] had to make” since Justin won’t. I can’t find many of them mind, so I can keep this short.

    Your first point is on Blair’s comment about “beautiful women” etc. I *do* think this is a strange thing for him to say. Most of us learned that some boys are just different around the time we were at university. It’s a story because Blair has appointed Chris Smith (openly gay) to minsterial jobs (IIRC) and is friends with and apparently admires Peter Mandelson (gay; less openly so). I want to know if he asks them questions like that, or if he just talks down to civil servants. I don’t go along with Justin’s “casually homophobic” comment in reply to you, but I do think that it’s an inappropriate question in a power relationship in work. It’s a pub conversation among friends question. I’d be offended if my boss asked me what rocked me sexually, and I think most people would too. I think it’s on a par with David Brent’s “waking up at the crack of Dawn” line.

    I’m afraid it is ad hominem when you move from the argument to the person; that’s what ad hominem means.

    You’ve said in your next comment that you think that Justin has developed unreasoning hatred of Blair: the more I know about Tony, the more hatred seems to be the only sensible reaction. Hatred and reason are not mutually exclusive. You don’t go about saying there must be a reasonable defence of ethnic cleasing, do you?

    Now what are your other points? Do you think there being any chance of a prisoners being officially tortured in a country we deport him to is acceptable? Tony Blair is supposed to understand this kind of issue. Opposition to torture, the “ethical foreign policy” thing was part of New Labour’s appeal, and his wife is a human rights lawyer. This stuff shouldn’t be news to him.

  17. Paddy, I think the mistake that’s been made here is that this particular subject is one that Justin’s been following on his own blog for a long while. The post wasn’t intended to be a primer for people who don’t know anything about the complicated legal and moral issues arising out of the government’s new deportation agenda, but a brief, sarcastic overview for those who know at least some of it. If he made a mistake, it was possibly to assume that everyone reading this piece had read (at least some of) his others, and so knew the context to his views.

    I think (bar the brief personal jibe), the thing that initially got old Justin’s heckles up was that your objection to the post could be interpreted as – to pick a random example off the top of my head – the quivalent someone denying a description of Churchill as “militarily incompetent” because they weren’t aware of his obsession with invading Norway or time at the Admiralty during WWI (or to take it further and to a ridiculous extreme, someone objecting to describing Hitler or Stalin as mass-murderers because they weren’t aware of the Holocaust, gulags and purges).

    It was also a rather overly serious response to what was – despite the subject-matter – a fairly light-hearted piece, with the misfortune of coming on the back of Johnny the Horse’s comment which seemed to be accusing Justin of being a comfortably-off, bruschetta-eating, champagne-sipping middle class softie. Considering he’s common as muck and a filthy pauper northerner to boot (I can hardly bare to bring my infinitely better-bred presence within twenty feet of him lest some of his working-classness rub off on me and mater and pater cut me out of the will), such patronising tones are unlikely to go down too well. So I think you may have ended up catching some of the irritation which was caused by that first comment…

    EDIT: I’m Justin McKeating and I endorse this message. Apart from the bit about me being common.

  18. Paddy Carter said:

    thanks Nosemonkey. you’re right, I haven’t read Justin’s previous posts, and I’d misread the tone (I’d read it as pure invective). And I should have thought a bit harder before putting fingers to keyboard.

    Backword Dave. I am not sure about whether sending suspects back to any country where there is any risk of them being tortured is ever acceptable, and my uncertainty stems not from thinking torture isn’t, you know, that bad, but because I wonder whether if I was ever in the position of having to make those decisions, whether I might discover exceptional circumstances that might make it the least bad available option. Perhaps the risk of torture ought to outweigh all other considerations, but there are a lot of countries that could be classified as “risk of torture” and some imaginable cases where we might want to deport or extradite to them. As I said, I may well have picked a wrong-un suggesting Blair’s “push on” attitude might be defensible.

    Yes, it is possible to hate someone and be reasonable, and it is possible to hate someone with good reason.

    There are many people who hate Blair, hated Thatcher, hated Kinnock, hate Bush, hated Clinton, hated Reagan, hated Carter, hate Chiraque etc. and I don’t have much time, in general, for all these people and their hatred for people they can only have incomplete knoweledge of, obtained through the lens of media coverage.

    I may well have done Justin an injustice, but his post read, to me, like somebody who has arrived at hate, and then finds reasons to confirm his hatred everywhere. I reckon it is hard to not see the worst in everything somebody does, when you hate them. I thought the inferences Justin drew from the Price comment exemplified this, as did the severity of his condemnation of the welfare state under Labour. I thought the torture thing might have too (I’m not so ready to believe Blair’s attitude actually was just “oh, torture, like whatever)

    Course, I could be wrong. Blair could be an utter scumbag, and Justin’s hatred of him entirely justified – but am I the only one who is a bit wary of making such judgemens? Backword, I can see you don’t share my caution.

    oh – and ad hominem, er yes thanks I’d looked that one up a while back now. Saying there’s spittle on the monitor is also a comment on the argument itself, not just the person making it. I’d meant the former.

  19. Justin said:

    In hindsight, this piece would have been better suited for my own blog, Chicken Yoghurt having a sprawling hinterland of seething contempt for politicians in general, not just Blair.

    With that said I’ll agree and admit that, on The Sharpener without the requisite context, this post stuck out like a knob in a nunnery.

  20. In other words: commoner – in future know thy place.

    Here endeth the lesson.

  21. Phaedrus said:

    Wow. Did I enter a parallel blogosphere?

    Great post and comments. Open, intelligent debate. Honest disagreement. Positive mediation. Mea culpas all round, then rapprochement.

    Lovely. Excellent work people.

  22. soubzriquet said:


    About your take on the “beautiful woman” comment: I’m sure that most of us have known heterosexual men who would make very similar comments. It is a sign of a certain lack of insight and maturity that statements like this are made. Are you really suggesting, though, that we should not hold someone in a position such as Blairs to higher standards? I don’t see that this really need have anything to do with hating the man, or otherwise.

  23. Paddy Carter said:


    I supposed we’d prefer to be governed by people with no deficiencies, but I can’t say that I regard this one as terribly serious.

    I don’t believe Blair is homophobic, he shows no apparent reluctance to accept gay people as friends and colleagues.

    You talk about maturity and insight, and I guess Blair’s question can be seen as revealing a lack thereof, but in some respects it’s a lack I am sympathetic with. I don’t find it easy to comprehend how somebody can looks at the world in a way that is utterly alien to me (which is not the same thing as being unable to accept that they do). One of my best friends thinks U2 is one of the greatest rock bands to have ever walked the earth. I keep wanting to ask him …really?. And how many dyed in the wool lefties out there have trouble believing that a decent intelligent human being can genuinely be …. a Republican?

  24. soubzriquet said:

    Paddy, I understand where you are coming from, but I think you slightly misread me. Although it is of course difficult to relate to people whose world-view is alien to us, it is clear that they exist (hence insight). The difference between thinking `I can’t understand this person’ and commenting on it in an inappropriate way is a reflection of maturity. This latter point is much like the difference in what you might say to an old friend, compared to what you might say to your boss.

    In all, it isn’t about `no deficiencies’, but more about `is *that* really the best we can do?’. Of course a single comment doesn’t make for a condemnation, but is a reflection on his character, so worth noting.

  25. sarah said:

    Just because this guy says that TB made these comments doesn’t mean he did, people are so quick to judge, I don’t beleive that TB is homophobic in the slightest, it’s one embittered man trying to get back at the PM. And baring in mind that Peter Mandleson is gay and one TB’s closet friends/allies, i’m not sure why so many people are being stupid enough to just believe these comments so easily.

    As far as i’m concerned your hatred of TB is completley UNJUSTIFIED!
    Labour Party Faith…

  26. Justin said:

    Sarah, thanks for dropping by with your well reasoned response. And for calling me stupid. You won me over, well done.

    By the way, it’s “believe” not “beleive” and “bearing” not “baring”. “Completely” not “completley” and “Mandelson” not “Mandleson”. Also please stop SHOUTING, you sound juvenile.

    I also notice the taxpayer paid for the time taken to send your party political message, and for the bandwidth required to send it (I can see your IP address and server details). Does your boss know or is this what’s known as the politicisation of the civil service?

  27. Jarndyce said:

    I’m not sure describing Mandelson as a closet friend is quite accurate these days.

  28. sarah said:

    I am allowed a break you know!!!

    Of which I can do what i like, considering it has taken me about 10 seconds to send this, I don’t think it’ll cause too much upset.

  29. sarah said:

    Hi Justin,

    I’m back and just in case your wondering I’m posting from the local internet cafe!

    Firstly I had been in work from 6:45am and was on a well deserved break.

    Secondly at the time I was actually working on a project about the public’s views and concerns about Gov Policies, Public Services and the Percepion Gap – thats my job!

    And to do that research I was browsing on some political websites and blogs to find out what people views.
    I stumbled across a blog that had you listed so I came on a made a comment which lasted about 20 seconds esp with all the silly spelling mistakes.
    If I had been on here all day whilst at work I would completely understand your point but it took me so little time and as my colleagues feel the same way as me on this topic anyway I don’t think anyone will too mad about it.

    Thirdly in my original post I was simply saying that just because a person says that somebody has said something nasty, unfair or wrong doesn’t meant it’s proof that he or she did say it -it’s only his word – thats all!

    You’ll be glad to know that this will be my last post on this blog.