Sketch: Ex-PM still has well-rehearsed magic that captivated a nation

THE hair is whiter, the furrowed lines in his brow far more pronounced and there is a somewhat world-weary look about him these days, but the magic which once captivated a nation is still there.

Tony Blair may have swung from adored leader of a nation to detested warmonger in the popular mindset, but as he sat down and started taking the grilling from the Leveson Inquiry it was like seeing the ghost of “trust me Tony” return.

All the old tricks were there. He didn’t say “I’m a reasonable guy” with his mouth, but his well-rehearsed body language did the talking for him in that respect.

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Wearing a blue suit and tie, he began his evidence with the lawyer’s trick. He made his confession. He had been too close to the Murdochs. But was it really a confession?

“Press links are inevitable,” he explained and then added: “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

He went on: “The thing is you were in a position where you were dealing with very powerful people.”

Soon we were to understand that the small confession was so he could more easily deny the bigger allegation. There was no deal, he insisted, that he had done with the Murdochs.

So the famous flight in 1995, when he became leader, to Australia, where he gave a speech to the leading executives in the Murdoch empire, was in no way a deal.

And Mr Murdoch, he claimed, had no undue influence even though one former Labour spin doctor, Lance Price, it was noted, had called him the “23rd member of the Cabinet”. Rather characteristically, Mr Blair sighed and looked hurt, as he did when it was pointed out that in the eight days before the Iraq war Mr Murdoch called him three times.

Looking at the performance, though, it was hard not to believe him, even though many people watching him think of the former PM as “Tony Bliar”. And as if a reminder was needed of that the surprise arrival of an angry anti-war protester during the proceedings and the flying egg afterwards showed that he is still a figure of hate.

But through it all, Mr Blair still was that “reasonable guy” and even had to be stopped from explaining himself after the protester had been ejected.