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

More articles by:

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

November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
Rick Baum
While Public Education is Being Attacked: An American Federation of Teachers Petition Focuses on Maintaining a Minor Tax Break
Paul C. Bermanzohn
The As-If Society
Cole A. Turner
Go Away, Kevin Spacey
Ramzy Baroud
70 Years of Broken Promises: The Untold Story of the Partition Plan
Binoy Kampmark
A New Movement of Rights and the Right in Australia
George Ochenski
Democratic Party: Discouraged, Disgusted, Dysfunctional
Nino Pagliccia
The Governorship Elections in Venezuela: an Interview With Arnold August
Christopher Ketcham
Spanksgiving Day Poem
November 22, 2017
Jonathan Cook
Syria, ‘Experts’ and George Monbiot
William Kaufman
The Great American Sex Panic of 2017
Richard Moser
Young Patriots, Black Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness
Lee Artz
Cuba Libre, 2017
Mark Weisbrot
Mass Starvation and an Unconstitutional War: US / Saudi Crimes in Yemen
Frank Stricker
Republican Tax Cuts: You’re Right, They’re Not About Economic Growth or Lifting Working-Class Incomes
Edward Hunt
Reconciling With Extremists in Afghanistan
Dave Lindorff
Remembering Media Critic Ed Herman
Nick Pemberton
What to do About Al Franken?
November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail