Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Tony Blair Before the Leveson Tribunal

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Arctic cool Robert Jay QC keeps humming along, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is the latest star in its procession to be questioned.  There was anticipation – this, the man Rupert Murdoch favoured in a dramatic turnaround in the 1997 elections; this individual, who has been both the bane and passion of the British left for years, the head of the insidious mutation that came to be called New Labour.  He has been wanted for war crimes; he has been unscrupulous on the lecture and envoy circuit, eager to squeeze penny and buck out of every engagement he can find. Indeed, Blair, along with his wife, has become something of a public relations brand.

The press were impressed by the way he handled the less than penetrating questions from Jay.  Some almost fell for his performance.  ‘If I had not lived through the Blair years and see the way in which newspapers were manipulated and sometimes lied to by his formidable Press machine,’ wrote  a miffed Stephen Glover for the customarily odious Daily Mail (May 28), ‘I might have been persuaded by this suave performance.’

Polly Toynbee’s note in the Guardian (May 28) was even sympathetic, bedazzled as she was by Blair as a true practitioner of realpolitik.  ‘Here was the all-time winner, clever, engaging and frank about what he did to navigate the hostile media seas.’  No, Blair was, after all, a man of the left, despite the sneers that he was merely a Tory Plan B, a conservative politician in Labour drag.  ‘Here was a strong reminder of all the perennial dilemmas Labour faces in trying to be heard above the massed foghorns of the right.’

Blair’s tenure at No 10 was a hypnotic one when it came to the press.  He toyed with them.  He described his method, in part, to Justice Brian Leveson.  ‘I took a strategic decision to manage these people, not confront them.  I didn’t say that I feared them… (but) had you decided to confront them, everything would have been pushed to the side.  It would have been a huge battle with no guarantee of winning.’

Win, he did.  Through the dark and sinister ministry of his Iago-like advisor Alastair Campbell, he pampered the press with Shakespearean weightiness just as they produced the fluffy gibberish they thought the public wanted.  The late Princess Diana’s sanctification by media as the ‘people’s princess’ was the most notable achievement.  ‘Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, is the immediate jewel of their souls.’  Such is the nature of Iago’s advice.

The press obliged him.  He gave them what they wanted.  When the juice started running dry in the samples, when the acting seemed a bit too hammed, and the body bags starting to come back from such bloody adventures as Afghanistan and Iraq, the press were not too sure anymore.  Blair’s greatest and most catastrophic legacy in terms of the press was to expose its viability to manipulation in democracy.  He corroded an institution just as he was using it.

Blair sought to paint a picture of papers gone mad, a media powerful and unruly to the point of being ‘feral’.  Murdoch chumminess, not to mention family ties, was excluded from discussion.  The fourth estate, he claimed, exerted undue pressure on him into a second sacking of Peter Mandelson from the Cabinet in 2001.  Those inquisitive scribblers harangued his wife Cherie Blair, though he tiptoed around the reasons why his wife might have been appealing to begin with – a questionable business relationship with the convicted confidence trickster by the name of Peter Foster.  Foster’s handiwork enabled Cherie to get a discount of 70,000 pounds on two Bristol flats.  Hardly small beer for someone in No. 10.

Indeed, there were a few large spots the inquiry might well have taken aim at.  Blair should have been questioned intensely over Campbell’s role in such matters as the September 2002 dossier on Iraq that painted Saddam Hussein as a global force of terror whose mania could reach Britain.  The second dossier, one of pure fantasy derived from the work of a dated doctoral thesis, barely got a mention.  Jay, who had at least shown a bit more mettle when it came to questioning Murdoch, seemed almost tepid.  The true performer was, as it has been so often, Blair.

It might well be said that Blair was something of a ventriloquist, one who took Britain to war on the coattails of a fundamentalist American president.  He invented press compliance in a modern democracy, encouraged colossal laziness on the part of reporters who preferred his press secretary’s briefings to critique and investigation.  The inquiry has, however, made us none the wiser on his dubious relationship with the British press.  One might not be able to bribe, thank God, the British journalist, but persuasion should never be ruled out.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyons
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]