THE convincing chumminess, the unmistakable hand gestures and the “trust me” plausibility were on display when Tony Blair returned to Scotland this week.
As he addressed a pensions conference, it was almost as if nothing had changed and Blair still bestrode the political world like a New Labour Colossus.
The mannerisms that were once so familiar to television viewers, floating voters in the Sedgefield area and the likes of George W Bush were as smilingly slick as ever.
Like a grande dame of the theatre returning to the stage in front of a nostalgic audience, it was almost impossible for Blair to disappoint.
Within moments of entering the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, the Middle East Peace Envoy had representatives of the National Association of Pension Funds eating out of the palm of his hand.
With that blokeish charm, Blair stepped on to the platform and pointed out that he was born 200 yards from where he was standing and was at school two miles away.
“I actually fell in love about 300-yards from here along Princes Street – although that’s another story,” Blair said.
“You don’t want to hear that,” he added, immediately disappointing a roomful of pensions experts thinking that a racy account of a teenage romance would provide some light relief from credit risks and investment strategy.
“It didn’t have a happy ending anyway,” Blair added ruefully.
Perhaps it would have been helpful, if he’d reminded disappointed delegates that his autobiography Journey includes an excruciating account of the “incredible outpouring of desire” that marked his relationship with a fellow Fettesian Amanda Stuart-MacKenzie.
Nevertheless, this was Blair in his anecdotage, dropping the biggest name of them all. The EICC was, Blair revealed, where committed a faux pas in front of the Queen. It was at the 1997 Heads of Commonwealth Government meeting that Her Majesty laid on a “fantastic dinner”. One head of government asked Blair if he could ask the Queen to sign her autograph.
“So I thought, okay I’ll go and ask her,” Blair said.
“I’ll never forget it. I said ‘Your Majesty so-and-so would like your autograph’. She didn’t say anything. She just raised an eyebrow and looked. So I went back to him and said ‘I’m guessing the answer is no’.”
But like the Colossus, Blair no longer occupies the position he once did. His reputation is forever damaged by the decision to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Amidst the laughter, there was perhaps the teeniest acknowledgement of this.
When asked about his political legacy, he said: “Obviously, the interventions on foreign policy – the judgements on that will vary over the years.”
You don’t say.