Hands up, it wasn’t Granita — and I was once a Trot: Blair lifts lid on the Brown deal and a student dalliance with far left

10th August, 2017 9:53 am

Tony Blair has admitted he was briefly a “Trot” in his student days and lifted the lid on the Granita “deal” with Gordon Brown.

Blair said he “toyed with Marxism” while at Oxford University, and once stayed up all night to read a biography of Leon Trotsky, but the attraction with far-left politics was “never really profound”.

“I suddenly thought, the world’s full of these extraordinary causes and injustices and, here’s this – this – this guy Trotsky who was so inspired by all of this that he went out to create a Russian revolution and change the world”, he told BBC Radio 4’s Reflections.

“I think it’s a very, very odd thing, just literally it was like a light going on. And even though, you know, over time I obviously left that side of politics behind, the – the notion of having a cause and a purpose and one bigger than yourself or your own ambition, and I think probably allied at the same time to coming to religious faith, that changed my life in that – in that period.”

The former prime minister’s candid recollections, in an interview with academic Peter Hennessy, will come as a surprise, given his repeated criticism of the “hard left” agenda of Jeremy Corbyn.

It is the description of his talks with Brown, however, that will excite historians. The two men, then members of the shadow cabinet, were widely believed to have agreed a “deal” for the Labour leadership in 1994, following the sudden death of John Smith, who was seen as favourite to become prime minister.

Accounts of the infamous dinner in a now-defunct Islington restaurant have prompted frenzied speculation in the 20 years subsequently but today Blair set out his version of events.

“Well, the truth is it wasn’t in Granita restaurant. We did have a dinner in the Granita, but by then we’d already decided what we were going to do. The actual conversation, I think, took place in a couple of different places in Edinburgh.”

After two conversations about who was best-placed to beat the Tories, Brown accepted “in the end” that the younger of the two should fight the leadership contest.

“And you know, it’s very hard to – to understand this properly now. I mean, we were so close. You know, we were – we would speak to each other several times a day. So this was a very close political relationship, personal relationship.

“I found him – you know, he taught me an immense amount, Gordon. I mean, you know, he – he taught me how to make a speech, for a start.”

When Blair, as shadow employment secretary, made a speech at Labour conference he was helped by Brown who rewrote the first lines.

And I remember thinking, well, he knows more about it than me so I’m just going to go and give it, and then being absolutely astonished at the extraordinary reaction I got from the conference. And after that I thought, yeah, well that’s obviously the way to do it.” 

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