Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Blair in a security bubble

Kieran McCarthy, after spending an evening on a cold Oxford street outside a venue where Tony Blair was said to be making an important speech, worries about the Prime Minister's isolation from reality.

"So it's 6pm, pitch black, on a cold February night and I'm sat on a wall at the back of St Anthony's College in Oxford waiting for the prime minister to appear having given a speech on Britain's future role in Europe.

I'm not supposed to be here, I'm not even supposed to know this event is taking place - despite the fact that the meeting - and what Tony Blair is going to say at it - has been plastered all over the newspapers and on the radio this morning.

Downing Street had told me I wasn't allowed to know the time or venue. And I wasn't allowed to attend. Oxford University had told me Downing Street has told it to refer all requests back to Number 10. I had found out anyway and called the college but was told there were no spaces.

To make matters worse, the prime minister had eluded my efforts to photograph him as he arrived by taking a back entrance that I believe I am now sat on the wall facing.

All I really wanted was proof that Tony Blair was actually in the building. Since what he was going to say in his speech had already been given to lobby journalists, who had already written it up, and since lobby journalists were the only representatives of the public allowed into the college, it seemed all too plausible that Tony Blair needn't turn up at all...

So, beaten by the intensive security put around our country's leader, I retired to the pub to thaw out, go to the toilet (having needed to for an hour) and consider the evening.

And it was then that it struck me: the leader of this country is living entirely within a bubble of his own making.

Tony Blair has no reason to doubt that his life is under constant threat. He was whisked in a car to an underground car park to deliver a speech that had been made public but had had a ring of steel put around it. He addressed a group of the assembled and he was then whisked off again, with a full escort until he was safe back in Downing Street.

But if this man, who so entranced the nation only 10 years ago, had allowed himself to move outside this paranoia, he would have found not crazed terrorists waiting for him outside but rather a motley crue of students excited to see their leader, a lonely old woman, a man with a limp, and a freelance journalist with a camera.

He would have found that the Britain that he has lost track of is still there. Quiet indignation, good humour and a dislike for people that get above their station. That is the world that he should have been standing in, at least for a while. That would have given him something bigger and wider to consider as he winged it back down the M40 to London."

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