It was inevitable that the Prime Minister's was
Parkinson last Saturday would attract some media attention, but it would never have made the front pages or the radio bulletins if TB had not allowed the master of the chat-show to draw him on the subject of faith. Politically it was, of course, a faux pas to acknowledge the judgment of God with reference to the Iraq war, thereby facilitating the inference, for those who wish to draw it, that the whole ghastly adventure was in fact a latter-day crusade after all but for most of the hacks this was merely the pretext to sneer at an honest profession of belief.
In fact, this clanger was actually the least interesting thing about the interview. For a start you'd think that the PM any PM might have been afforded the honour of being the only guest on the show, rather than merely topping the bill after Kevin Spacey (who remained on the set) and a singing act.
But then there was the extraordinary power dynamic of the piece, leaving us in no doubt as to which of the two parties was more important. Parky was, as always, relaxed, totally in command, and polite without undue, or even due deference.
Blair was visibly nervous and ill at ease, and the effect was heightened by the frequent cuts to cropped close-up, an innovation since the show moved to ITV.
At one point he was awkwardly gripping the back of his chair with his right hand; at others he was showing the soles of his shoes to the camera, which always makes people look as if they've just been pushed over backwards. And throughout, the revelation gradually dawned on the viewer that Tony Blair, the smooth-talking lawyer, the Oxford sophisticate, is no better at talking in sentences or ordering his thoughts before voicing them than John Prescott. He's just posher. And it. wasn't as if he was being hauled over the coals: this was nothing more than a friendly chat, with Spacey even helping to keep it light by pitching in with his Bill Clinton impression.
Only months before the 1997 election Blair appeared on The Frank Skinner Show. Though uncomfortable with the triviality of it and grinning like a madman in the dire, populist effort to associate himself with a bankable comedian, he was still sickeningly cocky 'all the same.
Now, nine years later, after a record-breaking run of success at the polls, he looked like a disgraced charity worker who's just got out of jail, or a humbled rock star fresh from rehab. Incredible though it might seem , he was genuinely intimidated by the studio and the audience and Parkinson himself. How can a man have been so diminished by office?
Or has the office, perhaps, been diminished by him? Think back. Can you imagine any other prime minister in your lifetime, even at the lowest point of their administration, being so obviously cowed in the presence of a broadcaster who wasn't even trying to wound? For that matter, can you imagine a broadcaster, even the notoriously arrogant Parky, being quite so regal to any previous prime minister?
Some of us have been holding our fire in recent weeks, as Gordon Brown's speeches have had less and less to do with his job, and the jokes about the removals from Numbers 11 to 10 have become so frequent as to be no longer noticeable, let alone funny, lest Blair surprise us all with a last masterstroke. But nobody who saw that first Parkinson of the new series could any longer hope for such an entertaining twist in the political narrative. The man is broken and finished, his spell fizzled to nothing: maybe soon people will finally start to realise that he wasn't up to much in the first place.