VISITATION OF THE BLESSED TONE
He was right, except, of course, for the occasions where he was right: no-one was going to lay a glove on Tony Blair when he appeared before the Leveson Inquiry today. And that included David Wakelin, who somehow managed to gain access to the courtroom for long enough to denounce the former PM as a war criminal. If only he had been a decade or so sooner with his initiative.
Questions? You want to ask questions?
And there was nothing for Rupe and his troops to fear in the Blair testimony: Tone asserted that Murdoch “did not lobby him directly over media policy when he was Prime Minister”, which sounds like a get-out until you realise that it does not exempt any indirect pressure, especially from Rupe’s variety of underlings, nor any influence that may have been wielded over other ministers.
But the former PM confirmed that there was a concerted effort to try and avert the welter of adverse press coverage that had dogged Neil Kinnock in 1992. In pursuit of this, much more effort went into the Labour media operation, with news management prioritised far higher than previously, via the unique insights of Big Al and Baron Mandelson of Indeterminate Guacamole.
Moreover, the papers that Blair deemed problematic were not the Murdoch ones, but those under the less than benevolent control of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, with the revelation that what Tone called a “personal vendetta” against Cherie Blair (which is still going on, as I found recently) resulted in more than thirty legal warnings about the Mail’s coverage over the years.
Blair concluded that attacks on his family – which would have included the Carole Caplin stories and the Mail using her relationship with convicted con artist Peter Foster to get at Cherie – were “unnecessary and wrong”. After considering the attempt to attack his wife by trashing the memory of Pat Phoenix by the odious Quentin Letts (let’s not), one can sympathise with that point of view.
And it may well have been after considering Dacre’s central role in the now discredited Press Complaints Commission (PCC) that led Tone to his apparently fair and even handed conclusion on any new media regulator “The absolutely key thing is that it is seen as, and is, genuinely independent of the media and of the government”. So no place for the Vagina Monologue, then.
Blair may also have had the Mail in mind when he said of attacks by the press on his ministers “I felt some of the stuff crossed the line, completely ... if they were doing something a particular media group didn't like … it was really hard for them”. So if Murdoch was no big problem, the most likely target, once more, is Dacre and his attack goons. And he clearly wants their influence taken out of the regulator.