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Tony Blair - Right Winger

by Ben P Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 01:05:44 PM EST

From the diaries, with a title edit ~ whataboutbob

Penned for today's Guardian by Jonathan Freedland. A quick note on Freedland: he is a genuinely centrist columnists, sympathetic to New Labour, if not a "true believer." Thus, this makes what Freedland has just written important: that Tony Blair is a right wing politician leading a center-left party. Many (falsely and disingenously in some cases) claim that people want Blair gone because they want to take the Labour Party back to the left, to Old Labour, to uncompromising socialism. Hardly. We want Gordon Brown to take office because we want to take Labour back to the center, back to New Labour. Hence the confusion some people have when they observe Brown is not a full-blooded socialism. Well exactly. But he's also not a right winger either, which is what Blair is.

On to Freedland's words, which I will quote at length:

You've got to hand it to Rupert Murdoch - he still knows a good story when he hears one. Like any good journalist, his antennae twitch, and he is overwhelmed by the urge to tell the world what he knows. No wonder he was bursting last Friday to tell a New York gathering about his latest confidential chat with Tony Blair. Turns out, he whispered, that while the PM was in India, he had watched BBC World's coverage of Hurricane Katrina. "And," Murdoch explained, "he said it was just full of hate for America and gloating about our troubles."

Of course Murdoch couldn't keep that to himself. For that one little sentence speaks volumes about the British prime minister, about what he believes and where he now stands. It is a gem, worthy of the closest examination.

What follows next is a description of Blair's contentious relationship with the BBC, especially regarding the David Kelly affair.

The fact that BBC bias was on Blair's mind at all is the second striking aspect of Murdoch's indiscretion. What does it say about Blair that his prime reaction to seeing the images of despair and suffering from New Orleans was not to wonder about the state of modern America but to rage against the BBC? How refreshing it would have been if Blair had shared with Murdoch, privately of course, his concern that a society so rich had done so little for its poor. Or his shock that a technological and military superpower could be so slow to save its own. Or his disappointment that Hurricane Katrina's victims seemed to have been colour-coded, that those who managed to get away were white, while those left waving from rooftops or floating, lifeless, in the floodwater were black.

But no. This was not what made Blair shake his head in fury in his Delhi hotel room. What he saw on the BBC appalled him all right, but his ire was stirred by the messenger, not the message.

It was left to Bill Clinton, Rupert's host, to subtly point out Blair's error. Not for the first time, he offered a remark that sounded like a defence of Blair but that, on closer inspection, made clear his disagreement with him. (The ex-president has done the same on Iraq.) He said he too had seen the specific report the PM had apparently referred to but had found "nothing factually inaccurate" in it. Still, he admitted, it was "almost exclusively" designed to criticise the Bush administration's response to the crisis.See the difference? Blair, as summarised by Murdoch (and Downing Street has not disputed his account), accuses the BBC of hatred of America. Clinton accuses the BBC of excessive criticism of the current US administration. That is a huge distinction, the same one cited in their defence by countless critics of the Iraq war. Their objection is not to America itself, but to this specific US government. Their stance is anti-Bush, anti-Republican perhaps, but not anti-American. Clinton can see that. Blair cannot. He believes that if you are outraged by Bush's lethargy in the face of a terrible catastrophe, then you are "full of hate for America" and gloat at its troubles. In fact, the opposite is true.

The Clinton comparison is a very important one that makes a subtly devastating point. Clinton - the center-left "modernizer," "third-wayer" par excellence - exposes Blair for what he is.

Freedland is just getting warmed up, though, as he really goes in for the kill later in the article, however.

But let's not overlook one of the key aspects of Blair's attack on the BBC - the fact that he voiced it to Rupert Murdoch. There is a political pander here, which is no crime but hardly edifying to contemplate. To state the obvious, Murdoch is a global broadcaster who has long had the BBC in his sights. He despises all it represents, starting with its status as a public, rather than commercial, organisation. It is a direct rival. By slating the BBC, Blair was tickling Rupert, hoping, perhaps, that the tycoon would see the PM as an ally.

This deference to Murdoch, we know, is not new. The memoirs of the former spin operative Lance Price, before they were purged, reveal that Labour "promised News International we won't make any changes to our Europe policy without talking to them". It's worth remembering that one of the early accusations of Downing Street dishonesty in which Alastair Campbell was caught out was his 1998 denial to the lobby of the claim that Blair had intervened with the then Italian prime minister Romano Prodi on behalf of Murdoch. Campbell called the claim "a complete joke" and "crap" before having to admit that, er, the two leaders had discussed the matter after all. Murdoch was indiscreet on that occasion, too, confessing that Blair's report back on his call with Prodi had led him to change his business plans. He was clearly grateful.

So we know that Blair is solicitous to Murdoch, to the point of subservience. That is all of a piece with a choice of friends that includes Silvio Berlusconi, the ousted the Spanish conservative José Maria Aznar and, lest we forget, George Bush. How dearly Blair wanted to add Angela Merkel to that list, his aides briefing anyone who would listen that Gerhard Schröder was history and that Merkel would carry the Blairite torch in Berlin.

Therefore we owe Murdoch a great debt. He has given us a single sentence that says so much. It reveals a Labour prime minister whose every instinct is at odds with the movement he leads. The BBC or Fox News? He chooses Fox. The victims of Katrina or the Bush White House? His sympathies go to the White House. German Social Democrat or the Prussian Thatcher? He chooses Thatcher.

This is Tony Blair, utterly out of step with the party he has led for 11 years. There is no outrage, just a shrug of the shoulders. Next week at the party conference he will get a standing ovation, as out of reach as an American second-term president - there is no realistic way of getting rid of him. Instead Labour will just wait for the day he goes, off to meet his inevitable destiny - the US lecture circuit - to earn millions and eat fine dinners with the Kissingers and Murdochs, the Berlusconis and Bushes, who are for him what Labour never was: his natural home.

For all intents and purposes, Tony Blair represents a leveraged buy-out attempt by Rupert Murdoch of Britain's major center-left party. With Blair as leader, Labour cannot claim to be centrist even, much less center-left.

Stop using Tony Blair as a model for what the Democrats should be or as a successful example of "modernization."

why doesn't Labor ditch Blair - for Brown or someone else?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 06:36:08 AM EST
That's something I have been wondering about too. I am not sure, but isn't it the leader of the biggest party that becomes PM. Wouldn't that mean that all Labor needs to do is change it's party leader?
by Fran on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 06:41:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it is the leader of the biggest party that becomes PM (witness John Major after the Tories dumped Thatcher).  

Why they don't dump him is anyone's guess - I suspect half the MPs have bought into some fear package in which they believe without electable uncle Tony they'd all lose their seast and their nice cosy little salaries.  Whereas with the Tories edging ever further rightwards they've really got no serious competition, and they'd actually get more votes under a new leader. (I believe)

Musings on life in Romania and beyond

by adhoc on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 06:47:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That, and the New Labour leadership has a voice in who becomes candidate (IIRC this was a party rules change they forced through), and purged most Labour MPs who would be disloyal to them from the candidate lists.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 07:39:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and I know that we've practically become the 51st state, but it is still the Labour party.  :-)

Musings on life in Romania and beyond
by adhoc on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 06:49:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, tell that about the 'u' to the spellcheck. :-)
by Fran on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 06:58:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Blair led his party to electoral victory just four months ago. There's no way he can be ousted, now or in the foreseeable future, without agreeing to it himself.

It all hinges on what his own agenda is, and then, possibly, on polling data etc that might show he has become so unpopular as to constitute a liability to his party's chances. (But he's just won an election, so round we go...)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 09:21:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The conoscenti will just start drooling when he hits the U.S. windbag circuit. His pompous talk, hyperventilating articulation and ever, ever-endearing boy-next-door coyness will be the talk of all the gossip columns and fizzy newspaper opinion hacks. I hate the man, personally. He is a warmonger and a liar. Just like his master: you know who. How can anyone crawl into bed with that slimy, right-wing dogmatist R. Murdoch.
by Quentin on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 07:50:30 AM EST
His speech about why Iraq needed invading got heavy airplay over here, and it was received as a well thought out, well presented argument. (Not, perhaps, a CORRECT argument!) A problem is that our politicians never actually debate, they just read speeches written by somebody else. So when a guy comes along who can actually think on his feet, he sounds fabulous compared to our guys.

The ability to vote directly (yeah, electoral college) for the country's spokesman, and a tight limit on his longevity, is a significant strength of the American system.

Bush will probably be gone before Blair is...

by asdf on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 10:34:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
`Damn, I was in the process of penning a piece on Murdoch's motives for revealling Blair's comments. Jerome (I believe) wrote a piece about Murdoch wanting to influence Blair's policy on the EU. As this suggests, it is more crass and commercial than that, he wants to hobble the BBC to further his commercial interests. Any side issues of EU policy are secondary to that.

Last weekend there was a confluence of the Murdoch "leak" of Blair's criticism and a piece in the (Murdoch owned) Times about the BBC and alleged corrupt product placement. Various proposals are coming from Government for the BBC licence fee to give money to other broadcasters, including those controlled by Murdoch, in order to pay for "public service" broadcasts. This confluenc just happened to occur in the week after the BBC and the main commercial broadcaster ITV had reached an agreement to broadcast free-to-air digital services by satellite as well as terrestrially. This threatens Murdoch's Sky monopoly on satellite broadcasting in the UK. He achieved that by some dirty tricks allegedly involving the breaking of the encryption coding for the pay services on the official British Satellite Broadcasting system which was technically superior to Sky. There was never a proper investigation into that. He also managed to get test cricket for his pay service after the Government declined to make it one of the "crown jewels" ie major events that should be available free to air.

by Londonbear on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 07:55:36 AM EST
Excuse me, I'm back because the more I think about Blair the more unbalanced I become. What a hypocrite that man is! He sucks up to Murdoch in the most sickening way and then dares to show his face in public as the leader of the Labour Party. Evidently, to his mind, the word labour refers to the hard work involved in selling Faux lies. Again like his master, he tolerates no dissent. The BBC World Service has been turned into a chortling, chuckling, pandering parody of its old self since the last investigation which Blair started because someone on a BBC program actually called him on his lies. Just listen to the inane, American-TV style bantering of the presenters on Europe Today, for instance.

The Labour Party will not dump him until the UK troops have returned from Iraq. Let him bear the entire shame for what he, as he said himself, 'relished': WAR. True to form, however, it won't faze him in the least.

by Quentin on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 08:15:50 AM EST
Blair does seem to have that effect on people.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 08:33:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In all humility cough cough I feel I must paste in here a comment I made in this thread about Murdoch's "indiscretion":

It's long been said that Blair struck a deal with Murdoch because he estimated that you couldn't win an election or govern in Britain against Murdoch's media empire. So he recognized Murdoch's role as kingmaker -- and, in doing so, confirmed Murdoch in that role.

What became more and more clear, and seems confirmed by these latest in a series of top-level leaks, is to what extent Tony Blair's personal and political character is on Murdoch's wavelength. He really is Tory Blair.

As for why Murdoch made Blair's comments public, he's no doubt happy to start a new round of attacks against the BBC. He may also be tweaking Tony's sleeve to remind him he signed a contract with the devil, and the devil can call it in any time. What might Murdoch want? Blair, not Brown, at Number 10? (Just a thought).

Indeed, I think Bliar and Merdoch have been in bed together for a long time. Perhaps it flatters Murdoch's vanity to show that he can snitch on Blair like this. It certainly shows Bliar in a subservient position. And it may be an arrogant, powerful man's way of calling Bliar to heel -- I haven't done with you yet, stay where you are.

Murdoch still doesn't have a decent Tory party to back in UK politics. Bliar is his dog in this fight. (poodle, natch). There's three to four years' life in this Parliament. Does Murdoch want to see Brown take over in the near future?

I'm wondering about this because it's all the same a high-profile anecdote to make public just for the sake of having a bash at the BBC...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 09:14:00 AM EST
is to eventually privatize the BBC or at the very least to emasculate the BBC by taking all of the teeth that it has and turn it into public television of an American style. PBS (America's public broadcaster) is dependent upon member contributions and increasingly upon corporate sponsorships for programs. Corporations prefer certain types of programming so rightish programming and business programming prevails. Unusual programming gets criticized and pulled...a la Bill Moyers.

These continual attacks are meant to sow the seeds of doubt in the public mind and weaken support for the BBC. I don't understand how his actions can be understood otherwise.

Funny, though, Blair may not even realize what he's doing. It may be simply his knee-jerk response to anyone that dares disagree. But I would bet that he knows very well what he is up to.

by gradinski chai on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 06:44:09 AM EST

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