Tony Blair aiming for gold in Olympic revival

Published in The Huffington Post on Wednesday, 8th August, 2012.

Anyone who follows British politics could not have failed to notice the re-emergence of Tony Blair in recent months. He has hit the headlines for defending the Games, for speaking out on the West’s ignorance to Islamic extremism and for his take on the hysteria over bankers.

From the Sunday morning politics shows to bouncing around the Olympic Park faster than Usain Bolt, he’s literally popping up left, right and centre.

This is all part of a strategy for Blair to “re-engage” with British politics, developed by his new Director of Communications, Rachel Grant.

The timing is no accident. Blair and his team are acutely aware that the feel-good factor of the Olympics provides an invaluable opportunity to remind the public that it was his government that brought the Games to London in the first place.

The announcement that he will take on a formal role advising Labour on sport, and on the Olympic legacy more generally, provides a perfect launch pad for future roles. Rumours of a Shadow Cabinet post are clearly ridiculous but you can fully expect Blair to be given more high-profile roles in the run up to the next election.

Despite overwhelmingly negative press coverage, there is room for Blair to make an impact. A Guardian / ICM poll at the end of July found that Labour would only dip three points if Blair was to return as leader – a remarkable statistic given the amount of baggage that he now carries.

It is hardly surprising that Blair wants to be more pro-active; at 59, he clearly feels that he has more to offer. In the post-war period up to Blair, the average age of Prime Ministerial retirement has been 64. Only John Major (54) and Ted Heath (58) left office whilst in their 50s, having achieved only one general election victory each.

For a man who won three and defined his political generation, that leaves a lot of spare time.

Aside from the publication of his memoirs, Blair has largely – and wisely – kept out of domestic politics up to this point. Much of his focus has been on the establishment of his faith foundation and on international affairs. He has spoken at length on Libya and Syria and has notched up close to one hundred trips to the Middle East since his appointment as the UN, EU, United States and Russia’s special envoy.

Blair has also taken full advantage of one of the few perks of being a former leader in the modern age and earned himself a bit of extra pocket money. He banks upwards of £200,000 a go on the lecture circuit and his business ventures allegedly make him around £20 million a year. Whilst that figure is almost certainly a wild exaggeration, it is clear that the Blair’s are not struggling financially.

Enough time has now passed since Blair left office for him to re-engage with domestic politics and the Olympics have provided the perfect backdrop. Anyone expecting the most gifted politician of his generation to quietly enjoy his retirement will be sorely disappointed.

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