19 Feb 2014

Blair’s email and reputation

Tony Blair’s pro bono damage limitation advice for the Murdoch empire  has landed him some reputational damage of his own. His reported words of comfort and advice to Rebekah Brooks and the rest of the senior Murdoch team just as the News of the World had been accused of hacking into Millie Dowler’s phone will make some feel pretty squeamish.

In a statement from his office, Mr Blair has said this was all about him trying to make sure that everyone got to the bottom of the matter. His statement says he was “simply giving informal advice over the phone” and simply recommending that “it was essential to have a fully transparent and independent process to get to the bottom of what had happened”.

But the police inquiry already announced was supposed to do that. Some might read it as an ally trying to help the Murdoch empire through the firestorm and help in a continuing and emotionally supportive way too.

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Mr Blair, according to the note from Rebekah Brooks, says: “Keep strong and definitely sleeping pills … tough up.” According to Mrs Brooks, he “is available for (James Murdoch), KRM (Rupert Murdoch) and me as an unofficial adviser but needs to be between us. He is sending more notes later.”

Whether a hush hush continuing advice service did happen isn’t clear, but even this account of a one hour phone chat tells us a bit more than we learnt at the Leveson inquiry in May 2012 when Mr Blair was asked by the QC Robert Jay if he had offered Rebekah Brooks “any messages of support in July (2011)”.

Mr Blair answered: “I, you know, I’m somebody who doesn’t believe in being a fairweather friend, and certainly I said I was very
sorry for what had happened to her and, you know, I remain, obviously whatever has happened, I don’t know anything about the facts of the particular case, but I have been or seen people go through these situations and I know what it’s like.”

Mr Blair has told friends that he worries about his place in history. He fears he is admired abroad but a prophet unloved in his own country. He’s braced for a further setback on this front when the Iraq inquiry reports later this year though he hopes he’s set out how Iraq was not a one-off side favour to President Bush but part of a bigger world view that has made him strident on intervention in Iran amongst other places.

One part of Mr Blair’s plan had been to try to establish himself as a man rooted in the Labour party and still loyal to it. He’s dipped his toe in recently helping Labour with a couple of fund-raising efforts.

But Ed Miliband doesn’t really want anything much to do with him and when he checks the timeline to discover that Tony Blair was having his hour long natter with Rebekah Brooks just an hour or so after he, Ed Miliband, was giving a speech and press conference in London, repeating his demand for Rebekah Brooks to be sacked, a door that was pretty much shut will be bolted with heavy furniture packed behind it.

I’m not sure the reference to Mr Blair recommending a “Hutton-style report” is proof positive that Tony Blair conceived of that inquiry and rejoices in it privately as a whitewash. I don’t think even in his most private moments that would be how he saw it. But it hardly helps the master of reputational makeover with his work close to home.

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6 reader comments

  1. Graham Sullivan says:

    Thanks Gary. The man is being continually exposed as the shyster he undoubtedly is. When this and other due princesses are complete, he needn’t worry any more about his reputation; it’ll be waiting in The Hague.

  2. Dom Ramos says:

    I really can’t see how anyone could possibly not interpret his comments as anything less than a knowing and deeply cynical reference to Hutton as a whitewash. It is unthinkable that Blair’s comments could be seen in any other way and it is remarkably strange not to see in those comments how clearly he is referencing the inquiry, as well as the technique to use it, alongside timed manoeuvres with the police, as a mutually-recognisable model whitewash.

  3. Stephen Voss says:

    Tony Blair’s place in history becomes ever more clear. It might once have been “Creator of New Labor”, a fresh breeze in British politics. But then it became “Puppy Dog to George Bush”, as the two together created the horror that is present day Iraq. Today we may add “Mendacious Mate of Rupert Murdoch”, as he dives — whitewash brush in hand — to join Rebekah Brooks in the corruption and slime that is the Murdoch empire.

  4. Christopher hunt says:

    I think it is really time we saw some tangible benefits from all the advice mr Blair gives everyone .especially in the Middle East.

  5. DavidP says:

    It’s the remarks he’s made in support of Egypt’s coup that have damaged his reputation most of all, in my view.

  6. Andrew Dundas says:

    The Brooks email is hearsay. Contrary to your headline, the email was not written by Blair. Nor was he sent a copy then.

    Tony Blair is a specialist in warm words for folks who seek help. His sympathy for folks in trouble does not mean he’s on their side.

    I’ve no idea what he says privately to Palestinian leaders either. They probably get the same sympathetic counselling. If that helps them come to terms with realities, that’d be helpful.

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