BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
What's the story with Tony's glory?

By Michael Cockerell
Reporter, Do You Still Believe in Tony?

As Labour delegates descend on Brighton this weekend for their annual conference two questions will dominate their conversations: Do You Still Believe in Tony? and What's the Story with Tony and Gordon?

Tony Blair with Noel Gallagher

Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister on May Day 1997 in the biggest landslide for nearly two centuries.

He had created a remarkable big tent of influential, high-profile supporters and opinion formers in the arts and media worlds. At the time, they fervently believed in Tony and many had given handsomely to New Labour funds to help get him to Number 10.

Blair was a political star who liked to surround himself with stars of showbiz and the arts. Many were invited to party, as Number 10 became the corporate HQ of Cool Britannia.

"Tony Blair more or less spelt it out," says Rory Bremner. "This was something new, and if you weren't part of it and if you didn't believe in it you were going to be left behind. And I personally felt a tremendous sense of hope."

Yet seven years later, belief in Tony Blair has turned to distrust. In the first of my two documentaries I have been trying to find out why. How has the man who seemed to want to be all things to all men morphed into the prime minister accused of both not listening and of leading his country into the most disastrous British war since Suez?

Roll with it

In Do You Still Believe in Tony? I chart the journey of many celebrity Blairites and find out whether they still feel the same about the Labour leader, and, if not, what have been the turning points on the way?

As well as Bremner, I've talked to comedian Harry Enfield, fashion designer Katharine Hamnett, film and theatre director Richard Eyre, former Fleet Street editor Max Hastings, arts broadcaster Melvyn Bragg and the biographer Antonia Fraser.

Blair and Brown

Fraser first fell under Blair's spell in 1994 when he first became Labour leader.

"I saw him as a man with a mission," she said. "Like in Star Wars, the force was with him."

But now, when I asked Rory Bremner whether he still believed in Tony, he replied: "It's a bit like asking someone if they still believe in God. I think you want to believe in Tony Blair, but rather like wanting to believe in God there are times when he makes it very, very difficult to believe in him."

In the second documentary - which immediately follows the first - I delve into Blair's tumultuous relationship with the Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Although the prime minister often accuses the media of treating politics as soap opera, the true life psychodrama that has been played out between the Number 10 neighbours and one-time best friends has had more twists and turns than a TV soap scriptwriter would dare to imagine.

Stop crying your heart out

When tension between the two of them is at its worst, it's variously known in Downing Street as the TB-GBs, or 10/11.

I also discovered, in a case of life imitating art, that both men are themselves fans of American TV soaps.

Cockerell and Blair
The author and the Prime Minister

But while Blair enjoys the West Wing, Brown - the supposed hard man in their relationship - turns out to be a devotee of a thirty-something romantic comedy series.

"Gordon is very, very upset because Friends has finished after 10 years. He's a great Friends fan," Charlie Whelan, the chancellor's former spin doctor, told me.

Naturally in our programme we could not resist cutting the highlights of the Blair-Brown coupling to the Friends signature tune: there they are alternately glowing and growling at each other, playing tennis and displaying their newborn sons.

The relationship between prime minister and chancellor is key to the success of a government, and never before have the top two been yoked together for as long as Blair and Brown.

When they work together, there's no stopping them, but when they don't, all hell can break loose. As the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock put it to me on the programme: "I just think that there would be a synthetic quality about the government if these guys didn't ram each other occasionally."

Kinnock is just one of a number of those who have seen the relationship at first-hand and have been prepared to talk candidly about how it works.

The Blair-Brown partnership over the past seven years has been like a fraught political marriage with tumultuous ups and downs. The biggest question of all now between them is this: who gets the house?

The documentaries will be broadcast in the UK on BBC Two on 25 September at 1925BST.


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific