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Blair's endorsement is last thing No campaign needs

Some people pay Tony Blair a great deal of money for his advice.

Last year, according to published accounts, two of his companies had £13.4 million banked in cash and £7m worth of shareholder funds. City types estimate the former Prime Minister's personal wealth, what with the properties and such, at £70m.

Mr Blair's wisdom is valuable, top of the range stuff, then. Contrary to any impression he might have fostered, it is not granted to the world as a form of charitable giving. When he does decide to hand out a few thoughts for free, we should appreciate the gesture.

Twenty years ago this week, the entrepreneurial powerhouse was but a mere shadow home secretary, albeit one with big ideas for the future of his party. How soon they forget. When Mr Blair stood for the leadership in the aftermath of John Smith's death, each part of Labour's electorate handed him clear, indeed thumping, majorities.

For the record, the "affiliated" party voters went 52.3 per cent for the vision of "Young Britain". The constituencies supported Mr Blair with 58.2 per cent of the vote against the forlorn hopes of John Prescott and Margaret Beckett. Of the Parliamentary Labour Party, fully 60.5 per cent decided they wanted to be "new", whatever that might mean.

How would such a contest pan out 20 years on, do we think? Wouldn't a party still struggling to build a lead over the Tories in 2014 welcome back a three-time election winner? Stop laughing at the back.

The piles of cash and the private jet haven't helped much. Iraq and the knowledge that Mr Blair deceived party and country are iron nails buried in the coffin of his reputation. For Labour, though, there is something more, the persistent, gnawing belief that their "most successful leader ever" was the most destructive force they ever harboured.

It is not a belief confined to political and media circles. There are a great many people still cringing at the thought of how they voted in 1997. In Scotland, that was getting on for 46 per cent of all those who turned out, a percentage greater than the UK figure even amid a Labour landslide. Times and perceptions have changed. Criminal, liar, betrayer: take your pick. If Mr Blair imagines a shred of his old popularity remains, he is mistaken.

Clearly, he has a better imagination than most. Only the other day he was lecturing an audience of self-defined progressive sorts on "delusionary thoughts" and doing so without a blush. More, he was still lecturing his party on the only true creed - his creed, the one that cannot be doubted, the one from which there can be no deviation.

It's worth reminding ourselves. First, there's your dose of Thatcherism, to be swallowed without a murmur because that's "inevitable". Then there's "individual empowerment" ranged against society and the state. There's perpetual public service "reform" to open up "parent and patient choice, bringing new providers and so on" because these too, says Mr Blair, are inevitable.

In the former Prime Minister's book, it is wrong to demonise business, worse still to forget that what the financial sector really needs most is "innovation, liquidity and enterprise". It is equally wrong for the Labour Party even to dream of moving from the hallowed centre ground. That would involve ideology, and ideology - the wrong sort of ideology - loses elections.

Addressing Progress, a Labour pressure group, Mr Blair did not actually say that acting and sounding like a Tory got him where he is today. Instead, in the name of realism he urged his party to remain intellectually (and morally) flexible. "In some cases," he said winningly, "this will mean a certain convergence of thinking with the centre-right." The possibility of a convergence with anything carrying a whiff of the left did not occur to the multi-millionaire.

Ed Miliband's thoughts on all of this have not been recorded, but you can guess he didn't turn cartwheels with delight. Mr Blair's remaining acolytes can busy themselves tinkering with history, but the present leader has worked to put distance between himself and his New Labour predecessors. The reason is simple: irrespective of any delusionary thoughts on his part, Mr Blair attracts revulsion, not votes.

In UK terms, you could say the same about Gordon Brown, but the judgment of Scotland would be different. It is too often forgotten that in 2010 the Labour vote here increased under his leadership even as it was collapsing ignominiously elsewhere. Such is the sort of outcome Scottish Labour are content to live with as a price of Union. At the time one reason was clear: Mr Brown was not Mr Blair. For a lot of Scots, that was enough.

The three-times election winner was never comfortable in these parts. In his 2010 autobiography, My Journey, he complained that he was made to feel "alien" here. He also wrote, to no- one's astonishment, that he "was never a passionate devolutionist".

In his book, Mr Blair added: "It is a dangerous game to play. You can never be sure where nationalist sentiment ends and separatist sentiment begins. I supported the UK, distrusted nationalism as a concept and looked at the history books and worried whether we could get it through. However, though not passionate about it, I thought it inevitable. We didn't want Scotland to feel the choice was status quo or separation."

So the fearful, half-hearted devolutionist, stuck with John Smith's legacy, decided to abide by the inevitable - yet again - but only to keep the demand for independence in check. That's not exactly how Scottish Labour like to remember events. Now Mr Blair tells the Progress meeting that Better Together have done their work, that there is optimism behind the negative referendum proposition, and that he "hopes" this will be enough come September.

You could ask yourself, meanwhile, whether Labour would have quite such a fight on their hands had it not been for the former Prime Minister's behaviour in office. You could ask, for good measure, what Mr Blair's endorsement says about any political project in which honesty is a criterion.

You could note the political journey of this Labour Unionist. You could bear in mind his real attitude towards the Edinburgh Parliament. You could ask about the connection between the present state of Scottish Labour and the legacy of Mr Blair. Or you could just remember Iraq.

He commends the Union under which his career has flourished. He likes things, it is fair to say, just the way they are, vast personal fortunes, ugly wars and all. The man who regarded even a modest degree of devolution as "a dangerous game to play" still reckons he knows what is good for us and - perhaps it goes without saying - good for him. Things can only get better together, as the song didn't quite say.

If the Unionist camp mean half of what they say, a cordial welcome for Mr Blair's intervention must be due at any time. He is, after all, a perfect symbol of the political arrangements they hold dear. If silence follows instead that can only be a mark of admiration and respect.

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