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First there was the bizarre “bromance” of blue eyes and creepy grins between Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and former Labour leader and Prime Minister, Tony Blair. It was reported by The Sunday Times that TB is helping Hancock, offering “strategic advice” on mass testing and vaccines. When asked if he and Blair had been canoodling, Hancock replied: “I talk to all sorts of people, and we take ideas from lots of sources.” Let’s hope those “sources” haven’t misinformed Hancock with flawed intelligence about situations in far-flung countries.
Blair has been increasingly active throughout the pandemic with his modestly-named “Tony Blair Institute for Global Change” trying to address problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. He was an early proponent of establishing a mass-testing regime and recently called on the government to provide more first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, with booster shots delayed. This week, he has called for a scale-up of the new therapeutic drugs coming on stream.
Now, Number 10 has hired Sir Michael Barber, former head of the Number 10 Delivery Unit under Blair, to have a look under the bonnet in Whitehall and work out what is wrong. (How long has he got?)
John Rentoul reported Boris telling the cabinet today that Blairite Barber has been hired to “conduct a rapid review of govt delivery to ensure it remains focused, effective and efficient.”
The use of the word “remains” in that context produced some terribly cynical commentary on social media.
Sir Michael Barber is the founder and chairman of Delivery Associates, an advisory firm for governments keen to improve, a sort of Barber shop, if you will. He is a highly respected expert on (politely) booting ministers up the backside. Can he do this to Prime Ministers too?
Suddenly, post-Brexit, it seems that Blairism is back in fashion in Number 10. Says a Tory MP: “Blair is desperate for rehabilitation and relevance. The 90s were a long time ago. Boris is searching for ideas on getting back on track and keen to heal after Brexit.”
Another Tory MP was less positive when asked what Blair had to offer, texting a swear word not fit for publication.
Around Boris, the new team of post-Dom advisors in Number 10 is battling to create order, forcing him into a more conventional non-Cummings mode of operation. It is challenging work. More on this on The Hound, soon.
Blair, the Sunday Times reported, has also been holding talks with Baroness Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, and Steve Bates, a former Labour adviser who sits on the vaccine task force. The paper reported that Blair is trying to channel his inner Charles de Gaulle and arise from the political wilderness – a terrifying thought.
Isn’t the country in enough trouble already?
For context, former French president Charles de Gaulle returned to power 13 years after leaving office.
Blair denies that he has any such ambitions. What seems more likely is that having failed to stop Brexit (Blair was at the heart of the campaign to overturn the referendum) he now wants to show he still has a contribution to make.