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A tough pitch for Blair

Gavin Hewitt | 19:05 UK time, Thursday, 29 October 2009

You had to pinch yourself today, but make no mistake - Gordon Brown was barnstorming for his old rival Tony Blair.

As soon as the prime minister landed in Brussels he went to a meeting of Socialist leaders. You need to get real, he told them, this was a unique opportunity to get a strong progressive politician into a top job.

Then Gordon Brown went off to a press conference. Tony Blair would make an "excellent" candidate, an "excellent" President of the Council. The weight of the British government was being thrown behind the former Labour prime minister.

At one point Gordon Brown conceded that the job did not yet exist and Blair had not declared himself as a candidate. Someone then said to the prime minister that he wouldn't throw the whole credibility of the government behind this unless Blair wanted the post. The prime minister said he had spoken to his predecessor only this week.

But almost immediately Gordon Brown would have realised that in selling Blair he faces an uphill battle. The Spanish said they were no longer for the former British prime minister. The Socialist group of leaders indicated they wanted a politician from the left not as president but as the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

Then today new names began emerging. Certainly Blair - if he stands - will not be the only candidate.

Iraq remains an issue. I asked Gordon Brown what he would say to other leaders when they raised the question of Tony Blair's involvement in the war in Iraq. The prime minister said he would tell them that this job was about the future and not the past.

The key remains the French and the German leaders. They have not declared their hands. Certainly Nicolas Sarkozy was enthusiastic for Blair in the past, but the word coming out of Germany is that Angela Merkel is wary of Blair's flashy style.

None of this will be decided at the summit, but at dinner tonight it may become apparent what kind of president the majority of leaders back. Do they want someone who can get a hearing at the White House or do they want someone who will build consensus within the European Union?

Interestingly the UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said that "you get a different conversation" when you ask the question "what sort of voice" does the EU want in the world.

At this stage opposition to Tony Blair seems, if anything, to be growing and if he stood he'd have a fight on his hands. He needs a big player to come out for him or he may decide this is a battle he can't win.


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