the Construction Confederation
So, here we are in The Red Lion on Whitehall, the favourite drinking den of British politicos and the place that is renowned, incorrectly, as the very spot where Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor, briefed journalists about European Monetary Union in ‘97.
And talking of double-talk, Building’s guests each come up with obscure reasons for why they are taking the alcohol out of “building buys a pint”. “I’m driving to Durham to talk to scaffolders about the CIS tax scheme,” claims Liz.
Stephen says he’s off to the opera and doesn’t want to be so off his head that he ends up singing along. Kurt, an ex-hack who is sadly letting down his former profession, laments that he falls asleep after one pint.
And spin is what they all seem to think Blair’s legacy will be. Stephen says the continual repeating of public spending numbers has proved beneficial for the Construction Confederation: “It’s kept us in a job, because we have to cut through the spin to explain what is new and what isn’t.”
Kurt agrees, chuckling at the gullibility of journalists everywhere: “It keeps me busy. Journalists are always phoning me about some announcement of £500m for roads that doesn’t really exist.”
Inevitably, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are issues that Blair will be remembered for: “My son was born during the Falklands war,” says Stephen. “And I never thought that two decades later my son would serve in Afghanistan.”
“I will forever think of Iraq and Blair,” sighs Kurt.
Stephen recalls a meeting with Blair: “We went into Number 10 and he was in the cloakroom. Peter Commins, the confederation’s chairman, asked him if he was there to take the coats.”
“Always known for his tact!” laughs Liz. “But what ever would you say to him?”
Stephen admits that the CIS tax system might not be the best topic to start off with.
Kurt recalls the time he walked out of the Highcliffe Hotel in Bournemouth during a Labour party conference at the seaside resort. “I was carrying my bag and was wondering why all the world’s press were looking at me, and there behind me was Tony Blair in his orange make-up.”
“The same happened to me!” exclaims Liz. “I was leaving a hotel and the press was there as I was followed by Lenny Henry when it was found out he’d had a fling.”
“Dawn French gave him a right kicking,” smiles Kurt approvingly.
French has clearly had more of an impact on the trio than Blair – Stephen then recalls that the last time he was at the opera, she had a non-singing part. “That was the first time she appeared at the Royal Opera, I bet.”
Perhaps this is a conclusion to the conversation Blair himself would have liked. When he was a youngster at Fettes College he loved acting, with Mark Antony in a production of Julius Caesar considered to be his defining performance.
Kurt laughs: “Whatever happened to that young man?”
Chosen watering hole: The Red Lion, Whitehall
Topics: Blair’s legacy, Lenny Henry’s fling, Dawn French’s opera debut
Drinks cautiously sipped: Two orange juice and lemonades, two Diet Cokes, one bottle of Peroni
Stephen Ratcliffe chief executive
Liz Bridge director of taxation
Kurt Calder communcations director
Mark Leftly Building magazine