Two Blairites Walk into a Room…

On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to meet John Rentoul, Chief Political Commentator for The Independent. Many people who know me well know that I admire his work, and so this really was a very exciting day.

Mr Rentoul first came to my attention a while ago, when I started researching more about New Labour. My friend’s would frequently engage in a fair bit of Blair-bashing, and I would be the only one standing in defence of the former Prime Minister. I realised simple logic wouldn’t convince them; I had to make sure I had the facts in order just to tip the scales in my favour. My biggest problem was finding a fairly balanced account, everything I could find seemed to also harbour an anti-Blair sentiment, until I came across a book titled Tony Blair: Prime Minister. Finally, a book written with a fair-minded honesty. Upon looking into the author – John Rentoul – it clicked that I had read a few of his articles before. I quickly discovered that he was also a person of eclectic interests. From politics to music, history, use of language, lists, and trivia. My personal favourite is his book (and ongoing project) The Banned List, it’s not just quirky, it’s quite useful too!

When Rentoul said he would be speaking at a conference on political polling, I knew it was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss out on. I’ll admit, despite having an interest in polls, the main reason I went was to hear what Rentoul had to say. He didn’t disappoint. He gave a thoughtful, clear argument against banning polls before an election, sounding quite supportive of the conclusions in Lord Lipsey’s Report. His speech was fairly short and lighthearted, finding time to mention his frustration with Twitter’s character limit change and laugh at a Peter Hitchens meme. The room certainly found it engaging and enjoyable to watch. After Rentoul’s speech there was a short break, which I used as a chance to speak to the person I had hoped to speak with for a long time.

Meeting John Rentoul was simultaneously one of the most exciting and most terrifying moments I had experienced in a long time.  This wasn’t helped by the fact I had woken feeling ill accompanied by a migraine – I knew I wasn’t on top form and I was about to engage with a mind I greatly respected, hoping to be respected in return. Still, it would have been a huge regret had I decided not to go, I had so many questions I wanted to ask.

As he walked past, I called his name. I didn’t expect him to hear me, but he turned and greeted me with a polite smile. Of course, I instantly forgot everything I had planned to say and began stuttering for what felt like hours. Eventually, still stuttering, I managed to force some words out. “I’m… quite a big fan… of… your work.”. Got there in the end. He responded in a friendly and grateful manner. “Oh, thank you! What’s your name?”

“Dannie,” (At least I could remember that)

“Crowhurst? I’d seen you say you were coming on Twitter.”

I was quite flattered by that exchange. Someone I respected, who had no reason to have a clue who I was, had recognised my name. It’s a very small thing that I really appreciated. The rest of the conversation carried on relatively painlessly, despite the fact I was still completely overcome with embarrassment and anxiety after forgetting my words initially. Usually, I’m quite confident talking to people when it comes to politics. I’ve engaged in a few debates with Caroline Lucas, pressed Simon Kirby to answer hard questions, even had a conversation with Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit. However, when it came to The Independent’s Chief Political Commentator, I froze. I’ll blame it on the migraine.

My experience of John Rentoul is that he is a very pleasant, patient person. He speaks a lot of sense, using logic and reasoning. To keep up with his antics, follow him on Twitter or sign up to his “Catch-Up Service”.

Mary Elwin is currently compiling his archive, which I find extremely useful.

Finally, I would just like to thank Jess and Joseph for coming with me and putting up with my ramblings.

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