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Home > Politics

If you called your dad, he could stop it all

Something's wrong with this sentence appearing in the news:

The Prime Minister Tony Blair once slept rough on a park bench in London, Downing Street sources have confirmed.

1 March 2004

The immediate problem is its context: the fact "emerged" while Cherie was talking to the homeless charity Centrepoint. Sleeping out for an evening has as much connection with homelessness as once having had to take a pee against a tree.

There's also the frequently-identified habit of Blair's of trying to be "all things to all people" -- the scary part of which is expecting people to take seriously any of this nonsense about eating mushy peas or having been to see Jackie Milburn play for Newcastle.

The UK Today has a good list of some of these Walter Mittyisms, and why they can't possibly be true:

Or the time when a 14 year old Blair attempted to stow away on a flight from Newcastle to the Bahamas? Which would have been tricky given that there were no flights from Newcastle to the Caribbean at the time.

What's really alarming about this aspect of Blair's PR is that it's so clumsy. Cherie's story brings to mind the photo opportunity where Tony told a Starbucks wage-slave that he himself had been a barista once.

The aim of this, presumably, is to show that Tony isn't some privileged grandee. But having done a stint in a cafe to earn beer money during your time as a fully-funded undergraduate is not a million miles from having it on a plate. When you think that having slept out for a night gives you an edge - or is even worthy of comment - your frame of reference is tiny.

Most students, if they put their mind to it, would be able to remember sleeping some night or other in a railway station, or on a beach, or at Glastonbury. But you'd have to have been lying there thinking "I bet Redders and Cottingham wouldn't have to slum it like this: I hope I don't get robbed by a tramp" to think it's got even the most tenuous connection with homelessness.


Brilliant. You try and come across as a man of the people, and do no more than reveal your dilletante salad days.

It would be interesting to plot each of these folksy twitterings and see how close they come, American-style, to press interest in some important, genuine piece of corruption or deceit.

A matter arising: would Westminster Council's new zero tolerance policy mean that Tony would be arrested for sleeping by the station (in which case, it's absurd), or only the long-term vagrants (in which case, it's criminalizing poverty)?

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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