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Sunday, 24 June 2007

22 June 2007

I dreamt the other night that I was walking in Downing Street and stopped to pick up a crumpled piece of paper out of the gutter. It seemed to be the draft of a farewell speech at someone’s leaving party.

“Y’know, people might find this hard to believe, but, well, I guess this is it. I mean, people will agree, I think, when they look back, that things really did get better. I’m not saying it’s always been easy, but it has been a privilege, for the people of this great country even more than for me, to have been your leader for these past 10 years.

“Look, I know not everyone agrees with everything I’ve done, but at least people know that, agree or disagree, I’ve always done what I know I believe to be what I believe I know to be right. And y’know, that’s what matters in life … principles matter, doing what’s right matters, even when people say it’s not right, because we all have a responsibility not only to do what we believe in, but also to believe in what we do.

“Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. This is a time for our country to look forward, to a time when elder statesmen will be able to advise on where we should be looking – right, left, right again, just like we were taught as children when we crossed the road – because, y’know, it doesn’t really matter all that much who’s living here in Downing Street … what matters is what’s gone before, the foundations that have been laid, the foundation hospitals that have been built but not yet paid for. People know that I will always be here, ready to serve, ready, right or wrong, to say what I passionately believe to be right.

“So this really isn’t a goodbye at all. Because true leadership, the kind of leadership that means something, my kind of leadership, means never saying goodbye. This is a great nation, and it deserves great leaders. For the past 10 years I’ve done my best for this country of ours, and I know my good friend Gordon will do his best too. That’s why I know he will need me here to help him.

“Let us never forget, for the sake of generations as yet unborn, as we seek to build that great city upon a hill, what this project of ours has always been about. The future, not the past. Hope, not despair. Opportunities for the many, not the few.

“And now, you must excuse me, because, y’know, the Queen is waiting …”

And then I woke up. By this time next week, he really will be gone. My personal memories of the Blair era are principally of those early Labour conferences after he’d been elected as leader. He grabbed the party by the throat and re-invented it. It was breath-taking to watch: after the cautious gradualism of John Smith and the heroic emotionalism of Neil Kinnock, here was a man with a plan.

In those early years, Blair was a consummate political operator. In 2002, I spent an hour with him at Downing Street, while he fielded questions for a live global phone-in programme for the World Service. It was an impressive performance: if there was one thing he excelled at, it was communicating.

But was Enoch Powell right when he said that all political careers end in failure? Has Blair’s ended in failure? My poor bookshelves are already groaning in anticipation of the tomes to come: “The Blair Years: An Assessment.” Then there’ll be “The Blair Years: A Re-assessment.” To be followed, no doubt, by “The Blair Years: A New Assessment.” But don’t worry, you won’t have to read any of them.

On Wednesday, Alan Johnston spent his 100th day in captivity in Gaza. The number of signatures on the online petition calling for his release now exceeds 170,000. It’s still available via the Have Your Say button on the BBC News website.

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