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Sunday, April 27, 2008

The fixer speaks

I am currently looking through the programme for the Hay Festival at the end of May to see which events I want to buy tickets for. The on-line booking facility is not yet available so it looks like I may have to rely on snail-mail.

One talk that is looking more and more enticing takes place at 11.30am on Sunday 1st June. The entrance fee of £6 is looking increasingly like good value for money to listen to Lord Levy talk to John Harris about his political career and his memoir 'A Question of Honour'.

All of the Sunday papers are full of tales from the memoir this morning best summed up by the Observer headline, 'Revenge of the No. 10 fixer':

The peer reveals he was once asked by Downing Street staff to confront the Prime Minister over concerns about 'long massages' he was receiving from his wife's style guru, Carole Caplin. The woman once described by spin doctor Alastair Campbell as 'trouble in a designer dress' had already begun creating tabloid headlines.

In his memoirs, A Question of Honour, Levy writes that an unnamed aide had become concerned about media reports concerning Caplin: 'The concern was not just about Cherie. The main worry was Tony - specifically, gossip within Number 10 concerning visits Carole was making to Chequers to give an increasingly stressed Prime Minister long massages.'

He had been uncomfortable about doing it but told Blair there was a risk Carole might become 'not just an issue for Cherie but for you'. He added: 'Tony went bright red. I never raised the matter again, and nor did he. But he got the message.'

Nor was it the only time Levy appears to have been called on for a delicate task. The book reveals how Cherie Blair asked him to help resolve her problem with Anji Hunter, his old friend and gatekeeper, whom she disliked and wanted out. When an exasperated Hunter wrote herself a new job description and hinted she would leave if she did not get her way, according to Levy Cherie got her own back by insisting that Hunter move out of her office to make way for Cherie's staff and by banning Hunter from going on visits with Blair.

In a furious note, Cherie apparently wrote: 'Your attempt to force a change in your terms has only hardened my hostility to you. I will not allow either myself or the PM to be held to ransom in this manner.' She concluded by insisting that Hunter's contact with herself should be 'kept to a minimum'.

On the political side Lord Levy claims that Tony Blair does not believe Gordon Brown is capable of beating David Cameron and winning the next election. To be fair this is not really new. Most of us suspected this and it was one reason why Blair hung on for so long in the hope of finding a viable alternative to succeed him.

Levy continues by stating that Brown had been 'indecisive' and was 'not honest' about the reasons he failed to hold an election last autumn. His book also claims Brown knew about the controversial secret loans from Labour donors at the heart of the 'cash for honours' allegations - but blames Blair for the decision to start taking loans from donors, saying that he himself had been strongly against it. Levy also reveals that Blair decided which donors got peerages.

Blair looks to have been right in his analysis of Gordon's weaknesses as a potential party leader, though the predicted Tory victory at the next General Election is still far from certain. Indeed, unless Cameron starts finding some substance to back up the glossy image then he might find his opinion poll leads evapaorating away as the election date gets closer.

All-in-all, an hour at Hay-on-Wye does not look long enough to do this book and its revelations justice.
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