KAMPANJ | Tony Booth har berättat för Newsweek om sin syn på Labour och om hur han fick fart på Tony Blairs politiska karriär.
I Robert Chalmers intervju berättar den gamle socialisten Booth, vars dotter Cherie Booth är gift med Tony Blair, att han tror att hon skulle ha blivit en bättre premiärminister.
Is there any leader who could revive the Labour Party? How about Tony Blair, in the highly unlikely event that he could be persuaded to run again? “Funnily enough, I think he might have an outside chance. Because people would say: well, at least he is the devil we know.
And with Miliband, you find yourself thinking, this is a good kid, but when is he going to get into long pants? Are we just putting him up as a dummy until we find the right person?”
Booth’s response to the question of whether the current Labour leader could win an election is characteristically unambiguous: “In your fucking dreams. This is not play school.”
He was instrumental in propelling Tony Blair towards Westminster. Booth recalls arranging a lunch for his son-in-law, at Soho’s Gay Hussar restaurant, with Labour MP Tom Pendry, during which the future prime minister was persuaded to stand for office. At that time Booth, nationally famous for playing Mike Rawlins, the “Scouse git” opposite Warren Mitchell in Johnny Speight’s Till Death Us Do Part, and as the husband of Coronation Street star Pat Phoenix, was well placed to generate publicity both within and beyond the Labour party. It seems curious that many forget the vital role he played in shaping Blair’s career.
“We did what we could,” he says. What would have happened otherwise? “I think he would have become a barrister.”
Ron Rose, the playwright and former Labour councillor for Doncaster, told me that, “The crucial thing you must understand about Tony Booth’s relationship with Blair is the part that he played in getting him elected. When I began canvassing, he was already telling people about his son-in-law, who was going to be prime minister. This was in the early ’80s, before Blair was even on the political radar. Tony Booth is the best canvasser I have ever seen. He was driving all over the country, working for the day when Tony Blair would become leader, long before anybody gave the idea credence.” Booth concedes that, “I helped get him into [his parliamentary seat of] Sedgefield.”
Booth and Pat Phoenix had also campaigned for his daughter Cherie, in her unsuccessful 1983 candidature at the Tory stronghold of North Thanet. “On reflection,” he tells me, “I wonder if it should have been Cherie. She wouldn’t have taken any shit from anybody.”
Bild: Sean Dempsey/AP. Tony Blair och Cherie Booth kampanjar i april 1997.