Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Remember when Tony Blair was a Womble

From a Calder's Comfort Farm, the column I used to write for the New Statesman website, published on 24 June 2008.

A couple of summers ago the excitement over Cash for Honours was at its height. There was even speculation that Lord Levy’s troubles might see the end of Tony Blair.

What would we have made in 1973, I wonder, of the thought that the arrest of Alvin Stardust’s manager might one day bring down the government?

But in those days the link between politics and pop music was closer than most voters realised. One of the most popular bands of the era was The Wombles, who always appeared on stage in large furry costumes.

The advantage of this was that anyone could be a Womble, and a shifting cast of session musicians used to share the gigs between them. But, thanks to the good offices of Michael Levy, on occasion a Womble costume would be worn by a hungry young Labour politico.

Levy’s recent memoirs are disappointingly sketchy on the subject, but it is known that Jack Straw, Patricia Hewitt and Dr John Reid all appeared as Wombles at one time or another.

Fascinatingly, a young lawyer named Anthony Blair would also pull on a costume when the briefs were slow coming in.

Alastair Campbell has ruthlessly expunged this episode from the Blair CV -- I feel a little nervous telling you about it even now -- but was he right to do so?

The Roman Emperors used to keep a slave to whisper “remember thou art mortal” when they got above themselves. Tony Blair would have done well to have an aide close at hand to say “remember you’re a Womble” now and then.

And if he was being particularly messianic, that aide could have added: “Re-member-member-member what a Womble Womble Womble you are.”

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