28 May 2012

Blair at Leveson – armed to the smiling white teeth

Tony Blair has finished his masterclass in “how to give evidence at a public inquiry”. Others appeared as witnesses, but Mr Blair gave off the aura of a wise consultant giving pro-bono advice with Olympian detachment and objectivity. He’d waived his normal fee and was happy to help.

You thought there had been a deal done behind the scenes to get Rupert Murdoch on-side? So did Lance Price (Alistair Campbell’s deputy in No. 10 for three years). So it seems did Blairite minister Tessa Jowell at one point (she asked Tony Blair is there was a deal done with Rupert Murdoch that she needed to know about). Nonsense.

The truth is, Tony Blair told the inquiry, his views and Rupert Murdoch’s simply often “coincided.” There was no deal done on trade union laws – he’d already decided, without Rupert Murdoch’s help, to keep the main body of the Thatcher years’ trade union reforms. There was no deal done on stopping overseas media ownership – not because he was cowed by Murdoch (though media proprietors were powerful), but because he didn’t believe in it.

Tony Blair came armed to the smiling white teeth with cases where he’d actually annoyed Rupert Murdoch with policies that threatened or frustrated his commercial interests (BBC licence fee, sports rights, Manchester United etc) and policies that annoyed Rupert Murdoch too (for instance, reducing the EU rebate).

When he appeared at the Iraq inquiry he managed to beat the drum for military action against Iran. At the Leveson Inquiry, he was no less impressive in a different context. He’s avoided an all-out assault on media law because he had other priorities in government and it would’ve smothered and engulfed all other work.

At the lunch interval I noticed Tony Blair bowed towards the judge, Lord Justice Leveson, as he stood to leave the court. By the very end, as the whole session finishes at 3.10pm, Lord Justice Leveson appeared to bow slightly to Mr Blair.

UPDATE at 6pm

Just been listening back to the interruption by a demonstrator at Tony Blair’s evidence.  He may have been intent on interrupting the proceedings in court and branding Tony Blair a “war criminal,”  but just as he breaks into the courtroom and before starting on his rant he says “excuse me” to everyone present. Lord Justice Leveson then stands and says “excuse me” three times back to him.

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