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AFEW weeks back, the author and one-time New Labour supporter Robert Harris did an interview in which he lamented Tony Blair's loss to domestic politics and criticised the former Prime Minister for "turning his back" on parliament.

Harris told Total Politics magazine: "I find it tragicthat a relatively young man in political terms should cut himself off from British democracy in the way that he has.

"He could have had one of those 19th-century careers and come back, as foreign secretary or maybe even as party leader, but he turned his back on it and walked out of the place," the Fatherland author went on.

The comments struck something of a chord with me - not because I want to see Mr Blair back in Number Ten, but because I share Harris's nostalgia for the days when former PMs stayed in the Commons and became elder statesmen, and when political longevity was something to be prized rather than despised.

This point of view does not stem from sentimentality on my part, more from a view that the accumulated wisdom and roundness of character that comes with years generally tends to make people better politicians.

After all, of the two men commonly regarded as the greatest Prime Ministers of the past century, Clement Attlee was 62 when he first entered Downing Street while his predecessor Winston Churchill was 65.

To be fair to Mr Blair, he was not the only PM of recent times to turn his back on the Commons. His predecessor Sir John Major also left the Mother of Parliaments on losing office, although he at least waited until the following election before stepping down as an MP.

Yet as the past week has shown, while Sir John's public reputation has been rehabilitated since he left office in 1997, Mr Blair's continues to plummet.

There are many reasons for this, not least the inflated expectations that were placed in Mr Blair when he first swept into office and the inevitable disillusionment that followed when he and his government were unable to live up to them.

But the biggest reason why people turned against the former Sedgefield MP was of course the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its grisly aftermath, which continues today.

Mr Blair's insistence that the 2003 invasion was not to blame for the current crisis in the country - and that in fact we should have intervened in Syria as well - predictably went down like a lead balloon with the public this week.

To paraphrase Mr Attlee's immortal words, a period of silence from him on the subject of Iraq would perhaps now be welcome.

By contrast Sir John demonstrated the humour that has latterly become his hallmark in echoing David Cameron's opposition to the EU commission presidential candidate Jean Claude Juncker.

"I know Mr Juncker of old. He was a very fine Prime Minister of Luxembourg," he said, in possibly the most elegant example damning with faint praise since Churchill described Graham Sutherland's portrait of him as "an outstanding example of modern art."

In the same interview, he also said there would need to a UKwide constitutional conference on Scottish devolution as it affects England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the event of a no vote in September's independence referendum.

If he's right about that, it could well have important implications. If the Scottish Parliament is given full tax-raising powers in the aftermath of a no vote, it will surely spell the end of the inquitous Barnett Formula and the spendingper-head disparity which it entrenches between Scotland and the English regions.

In his Total Politics interview, Robert Harris described Mr Blair's current life as "tragic" and to a greater or lesser extent, that is true of all who have exercised great power and then been forced to relinquish it.

Sir John's own tragedy was to have had the misfortune to follow a political titan in Margaret Thatcher and to have led the Conservative Party at a time when it was frankly ungovernable.

The end result, in May 1997, was that Mr Blair inflicted on him the most shattering election defeat experienced by any sitting Prime Minister of the past 100 years as Labour swept to power with a 179-seat landslide.

But in the reversal of public esteem that has occurred since then, it is surely Sir John who has had the last laugh.

While Sir John's public reputation has been rehabilitated since he left office, Mr Blair's has plummeted
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 21, 2014
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