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.

Pre News refresh player – this is the default player for the C4 news site – please do not delete. Ziad

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.

Follow @GaryGibbonBlog on Twitter.

Tweets by @garygibbonc4