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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 22, 2017
Jason Hirthler
Invisible Empire Beneath the Radar, Above Suspicion
Ken Levy
Sorry, But It’s Entirely the Right’s Fault
John Laforge
Fukushima’s Radiation Will Poison Food “for Decades,” Study Finds
Ann Garrison
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, and the UK’s Socialist Surge
Phillip Doe
Big Oil in the Rocky Mountain State: the Overwhelming Tawdriness of Government in Colorado
Howard Lisnoff
The Spiritual Death of Ongoing War
Stephen Cooper
Civilized, Constitution-Loving Californians Will Continue Capital Punishment Fight
Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla
Cuba Will Not Bow to Trump’s Threats
Ramzy Baroud
Israel vs. the United Nations: The Nikki Haley Doctrine
Tyler Wilch
The Political Theology of US Drone Warfare
Colin Todhunter
A Grain of Truth: RCEP and the Corporate Hijack of Indian Agriculture
Robert Koehler
When the Detainee is American…
Jeff Berg
Our No Trump Contract
Faiza Shaheen
London Fire Fuels Movement to Challenge Inequality in UK
Rob Seimetz
Sorry I Am Not Sorry: A Letter From Millennials to Baby Boomers
June 21, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
Resist This: the United States is at War With Syria
James Ridgeway
Good Agent, Bad Agent: Robert Mueller and 9-11
Diana Johnstone
The Single Party French State … as the Majority of Voters Abstain
Ted Rall
Democrats Want to Lose the 2020 Election
Kathy Kelly
“Would You Like a Drink of Water?” Please Ask a Yemeni Child
Russell Mokhiber
Sen. Joe Manchin Says “No” to Single-Payer, While Lindsay Graham Floats Single-Payer for Sick People
Ralph Nader
Closing Democracy’s Doors Until the People Open Them
Binoy Kampmark
Barclays in Hot Water: The Qatar Connection
Jesse Jackson
Trump Ratchets Up the Use of Guns, Bombs, Troops, and Insults
N.D. Jayaprakash
No More Con Games: Abolish Nuclear Weapons Now! (Part Four)
David Busch
The Kingdom of Pence–and His League of Flaming Demons–is Upon Us
Stephen Cooper
How John Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle” Helps Us Navigate Social Discord
Madis Senner
The Roots of America’s Identity and Our Political Divide are Buried Deep in the Land
June 20, 2017
Ajamu Baraka
The Body Count Rises in the U.S. War Against Black People
Gary Leupp
Russia’s Calm, But Firm, Response to the US Shooting Down a Syrian Fighter Jet
Maxim Nikolenko
Beating Oliver Stone: the Media’s Spin on the Putin Interviews
Michael J. Sainato
Philando Castile and the Self Righteous Cloak of White Privilege
John W. Whitehead
The Militarized Police State Opens Fire
Peter Crowley
The Groundhog Days of Terrorism
Norman Solomon
Behind the Media Surge Against Bernie Sanders
Pauline Murphy
Friedrich Engels: a Tourist In Ireland
David Swanson
The Unifying Force of War Abolition
Louisa Willcox
Senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Tom Udall Back Tribes in Grizzly Fight
John Stanton
Mass Incarceration, Prison Labor in the United States
Robert Fisk
Did Trump Denounce Qatar Over Failed Business Deals?
Medea Benjamin
America Will Regret Helping Saudi Arabia Bomb Yemen
Brian Addison
Los Angeles County Data Shows Startling Surge in Youth, Latino Homelessness
Native News Online
Betraying Indian Country: How Grizzly Delisting Exposes Trump and Zinke’s Assault on Tribal Sovereignty and Treaty Rights
Stephen Martin
A Tragic Inferno in London Reflects the Terrorism of the Global Free Market
Debadityo Sinha
Think Like a River
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail