Friday, May 11, 2007


Blair, Campbell and the Media

All this Blair Legacy debate stuff went a bit off the scale yesterday and especially on the telly. Those on the left who hate Blair even more viscerally than they did Thatcher, seem unwilling to allow him any achievements at all. Which seems ridiculous when it's transparently clear that the improvements he insisted listing at his self regarding farewell(I reached for the sick bag at his Bush like claim we were the 'greatest nation on Earth')do have considerable substance- and he didn't even mention Ulster.

Much of this is because Blair, as David Marquand points out, Iraq effectively alienated the radical left British intelligentsia. But I suppose the key question is whether his collective achievements (constitutionally, in saving public services, in Northern Ireland, in Kosovo and in Sierra Leone) are outweighed by the damage done by him to public trust and the huge error of judgement over Iraq. I suspect that the latter will overshadow the former for several years but that the former will assume greater prominence over time. But my interest was caught in the fascinating, well documented Newsnight extended discussion last night by Blair's relationship to the media.

Alastair Campbell showed just how effective a political operator he is by virtually dominating the studio, despite the presence of such heavyweights as Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy, not to mention Paxo himself. When Blair's alleged mendacity was raised Campbell vigorously defended Blair as being the first PM who has had to cope with the slings and arrows of 24-7 media coverage. Howard, (a riveting exchange this), recalled that Blair in opposition had been wholly trustworthy and honest but that he had soon changed into someone who palpably lacked these virtues. The reason? He pointed at Campbell and calmly accused him of being the cause, of being responsible for the growth of 'lying and lowering the tone of public life'.

Campbell was clearly rattled I thought, and could only counter accuse feebly that Howard was just expressing sour grapes through losing his electoral battles with Blair. Howard mentioned(correctly) that Peter Oborne's book, The Rise of Political Lying(2005) gave the chapter and verse on this mendacity and that Campbell had not sued. To this Alastair replied that he had not even read the book(Oh Yeah?).It is true that Campbell has not been in Number 10 for four years now but Howard may well be right in judging that the rot set in when AC ruled the communications roost.

Campbell was outraged by Gilligan's accusations back in 2003 but the Butler Report, especially chapters 5 and 6, reveal that the dossier which emerged from Blair's office had embellished the available raw intelligence to an extent that was not justifiable, the '45 minute' claim being the most flagrant example. 'Ah', you might say, 'so it's not really Blair's fault, it's Campbell's'? But Blair's desk was where the buck stopped and, even if Campbell was deeply involved, it cannot be denied that Blair must have been willingly complicit.

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