Tony Blair’s visit to East Renfrewshire, from The Herald.
IF legend is to be believed, Camelot had just the one round table. King Tony, however, can boast six. They were envisioned as tables of counsel and debate. The Labour apparatchiks said so. “Let’s Talk”, they billed the morning’s proceedings. Six tables, eight people apiece, invited from a crosssection of East Renfrewshire society. King Tony would pass between them, these shoots of the Labour grassroots. Together, they would share questions and discover answers. Very Arthurian, despite the absence of wizardry (discounting the campaign press officers).
A half-dozen tables to covet, then. But the King’s already up against it. Here’s his grey Jaguar, a half-hour late, just arriving in Neilston. The protesters could have waited all day. “Shame on you, Blair!” hollers Catherine Droy. “Out, out!” She is here in anger at East Renfrewshire Council cutting warden provision in care homes. Officially, it’s a “cooncil matter, ” but it’s not every day Labour royalty visits.
Inside, King Tony appears to applause. To his right, the faithful Sir Jack. Both are armed with black coffee in Labour mugs. They grasp the crockery like divining rods, finding the first table. Handshakes dispensed, pleasantries follow. The region’s educational strengths elicit positive murmurs. Anti-social behaviour rears its head, too. More powers for the police, the King says. A student in thick black eyeliner cuts through the superlatives. “How do we bring back Labour supporters who used to vote for the party almost as a tradition?” The King takes a slug of instant. “The most important thing is to focus on delivering for Scotland, ” he reasons.
No time left here. Five tables await. A hurried aide leans in Sir Jack’s ear. Up, up up. This isn’t political debate. It’s political speed dating. Except everyone here is already in love. Table two. Here’s Betty Cunningham, East Renfrewshire’s sprightly provost. She slides a Barrhead News under the King’s nose. “He’s a local boy, ” she says, pointing to a picture of Alex McLeish, Scotland manager. The King, all charm and molars, finds his lightbulb. “My dear old auntie used to live in this constituency, ” he reveals warmly. Next to him, Cantor Ernest Levy strikes up chat. One of Scotland’s most prominent Jewish figures and a concentration camp survivor, the King receives the 82-year-old warmly. And is polite enough not to mention his tartan Kippah.
Time, as is its wont, presses on. Ten minutes down, four tables to go, and the coffee’s getting colder. King Tony despatches his knight eastwards. The photographers stick rigidly to the royalty. Again King Tony finds a receptive audience. Across the room, Sir Jack mingles with another group. No-one knows what they are saying. It’s not that no-one can hear; no-one is listening. Again, musical tables. A few cursory speeches, and it’s cut short. The King leaves the building. Those tables left out seem disgruntled. Haven’t they been reading the papers recently? Dating royalty only ends in heartbreak.