A week ago, I was at the Swift Festival in Trim, Co Meath, where, as I blogged at the time, journalist John Waters interviewed me in front of a good crowd of Irish politicians, thinkers, journalists and otherwise generally very nice people.
John became the latest in a long line of journalists to make the statement that Tony Blair’s entire legacy, which he acknowledged was considerable, not least because of Northern Ireland, would be defined mainly by Iraq. I say ‘journalists’ because I think whilst some members of the public may see TB only in the context of Iraq, I think most have a much more rounded view of his Premiership than the bulk of the UK media does.
In my answer, I reeled off my usual list of TB achievements and the many changes that make Britain a better, fairer, more progressive country than it was. Not surprisingly the loudest applause came when I pointed out that many PMs and Presidents had tried to bring peace to NI, but it looked like TB had done it, and that alone put him in the ranks of the top PMs in history.
But I also made a big play of Kosovo, another military intervention, also in very difficult political circumstances, of uncertain outcome, and with considerable personal and reputational capital tied up in it. I said, and I think this is borne out by my diaries at the time, that it showed TB’s leadership at its best, as he sought with others, notably Bill Clinton, to reverse the ethnic cleansing ordered by Milosevic.
In an interview recently I said that whenever I got into a cab driven by a Kosovan, they tended to waive the fare. This led to the usual sneers from one or two usual suspects, who would find it hard to imagine that on getting me into the back of a cab, a driver would want to do anything other than regurgitate the bilious outpourings of columnists and commentators left and right whose hardest choice generally is whether to have red or white for lunch.
But anyone who saw the admittedly limited coverage of TB’s visit to Kosovo yesterday might have understood why Kosovar Albanians in particular see him and those who worked with him in a rather different light to the conventional so-called wisdom of the mainstream media.
So what was the decision of virtually all of the media, faced with pictures of crowds turning out to give him a hero’s welcome, politicians lining up to ply him with thanks and honours, and parents bringing out children named after him? Why, to ignore it all of course. Now if one of those parents had just taken along a banner saying ‘what about Iraq, Tony?’ then there just might have been the outside chance of getting it on the news. Even better, if someone had only chucked a shoe at him as he was cheered through the streets of Pristina, then almost certainly we would have heard of it. Or if Tony had perhaps said a few words about how concerned he was about the Moat hunt, or let slip a few words about Peter Mandelson’s book, on which the Murdoch Empire is in full hyperama mode, then he might have made it onto the bulletins. But getting a good reception for reversing ethnic cleansing … give me a break, Tony, you know that Iraq is the only country you had anything to do with.
So apart from a gently piss-taking montage at the end of Newsnight, one or two similarly piss-taking pieces tucked away in some of the papers, we are talking pretty much news blackout time. As I have been saying about our media for a long time — more space, less real debate; greater volume, fewer stories dealt with; and the hacks are the real spin doctors.
*** Buy Prelude to Power here at Amazon.
It was mentioned on newsnight by Gavin the last 12 seconds of the show….he could resisit bringing it down with some barbed comments though.
Seems to me that TB and yourself are destined to reap your true rewards long after you are gone. The Media in this country beleive they can be judge jury and outraged citizen all the same time without the benefit of having to give a reason that would stand up in a Kangeroo court let alone a real court.
TB is regarded as a hero in Sierra Leone too. He will be in Iraq …..anyone read about the Marsh Arabs and the return of the wetlands from 5% to 80% now after Saddam had it drained to kill off a whole race of Arabs because they didn’t agree with him.
Historians will mention the hostility but they will also point out the double standards and hipocrisy of it.
I remember vividly the horrors of the atrocities committed in the Balkans, not quite believing that this was on the fringes of Europe. I also remember the gut wrenching frustration at the total failure of the UN to make even the slightest impact in dealing with the situation, riven as they, (we), were with indecision, politics and vested interests. Small wonder that when a similar bunch of sociopathic thugs needed dealing with in Bahgdad the coalition went around the UN, (despite endless attempts to engage them). Left up to the UN I have no doubt whatsoever the regimes of Milosevic and Saddam would still be in power and still completely ignoring the toothless “Resolutions”.
I hope Polly Toynbee’s correct, she reckons we now have the worst press in the world.
It would be awful to think that any other country had to endure an even more narrowly-focused, three-day wonder, celebrity obsessed, build-em up then shoot-em down, everything’s broken but nothing must ever change, envy-stoking, smugly self-satisfied media bunch than we do…
Alastair, you expect too much too soon. Tony Blair’s stand on Kosovo was just and courageous. But, at home, it is too deeply overshadowed by what so many of us believe were the errors of Iraq.
There is also a feeling that the two are linked. Several years ago, Claire Short suggested that TB’s heroic reception in Kosovo gave him a taste for being similarly garlanded on the streets of Bagdad. It may have been subconscious and in some ways selfless, but it’s nontheless a powerful motive that could have clouded his judgement. It’s a heady thought to feel one can liberate millions of people.
Of course you and he would hotly deny all this. But, no matter how many enquiries or books are written about our actions in Iraq, or the relationship between Blair and Bush and Blair and his maker, many of us find it hard to fathom the psychology that drove him. She may not be your best pal, but Claire Short’s supposition makes sense.
I think this is one of the reasons why some of us feel more uncomfortable than we should about celebrating Tony Blair’s role in Kosovo. History needs a bit more time.
Tony Blair was a collossal figure whose work on behalf of Northern Ireland alone ought to have guaranteed him a place in the pantheon of great British politicians. Now the pygmies who call themselves “journalists” are even calling for him to pay for his own police protection. Disgraceful.
The current state of Britain´s media cannot be of anyone´s interest. Media should go after the truth and be unbiased.
But as we all saw during the general election campaign this is not the case.
In Finland newspapers only show their allegiances in editorials – news pages are usually neutral. And someone like Nick Robinson would not last a week on our “BBC” as it is under the supervision of our Parliament.
If British public gets a distorted view of reality week after week, it is no wonder that, for example, so many people believed David Cameron´s claims about “Broken Britain”.
I myself like to watch C4 News daily. I also have the Economist on subscription. And I do read the Telegraph, the Guardian (+ the Observer) and the Independent online.
It is interesting that many quality papers have writers who are not in line with their paper. Is this for circulation reasons?
There is David Aaronovitch at the Times and Mary Riddell at the Telegraph. And everytime Sir Simon Jenkins writes for the Guardian, I guess it loses at least 100 more readers.
And the Grandmasters of Tory-bashing, Simon Heffer and Stephen Glover, write for the Telegraph and the Mail respectively!
As I am currently watching the Tour de France and Burnley´s game also starts now, perhaps there will be another opportunity to talk about the role of News International and also about silly celebrity journalism.
Ps. I enjoyed reading Maya!
One of Tony Blair’s strengths for me was his conviction doing doing the right thing even if it was unpopular.
I find it rather galling that some of the Candidates for The Labour Party Leadership are critical of the removal of Saddam Hussain in Iraq. I always thought that removing him was the right thing to do. International law can be vague and subject to arguments, but the moral position of removing him for his acts of genocide committed on his own people was correct. Those candidates who have changed their mind because is popular to be against the invasion will not be considered as I cast my vote. They are guilty of moral cowardice in my opinion.
Tony Blair was a superb PM in my opinion, and his actions will be seen in better light in years to come.
PS Alastair, why don’t you take a seat as a Labour MP? Your command of the brief as Question Time showed is second to none. A future Labour Government would be better for having you playing a pivotal role
What’s going on AC? David Milliband should have kept his mouth shut on Gordon. There is a time and a place to express your views, like a diary. I understand there is a very good one out now – I think it’s called ‘Prelude to Power’?
Seriously though, he may come regret it, the same way Gordon probably regrets things that were said and done during his time. The difference is those things happened in the heat of the moment. DM would have been better served if he’d shown some class, and rose above petty criticisms. Of course, it may well help him in the leadership, but I tend to think he’s made his first big error of the campaign.
It’s not been his week, as Ed Balls has been centre-stage, pinning Michael Gove against the ropes, and leaving him out for the count. On top of that, Peter Mandelson has been seen to endorse Balls as the leading contender.
Perhaps we’ll get another side of the story some day, though GB has never indicated a wish to publish his story. I understand Sarah is planning a book on life at No10, so DM might just be hoping she’s a really slow writer.
I was pesonally surprised by the timing of the comments, as it’s not a good idea to demonstrate petulance during a leadership campaign – especially if your standing as a candidate.
PS I see there is a TonyBlairOffice on Twitter, presumably established in time to help promote his book. Nothing wrong in that but trouble is he’s only following one other – his sports foundation. Even No 10 and Obama have hundreds of thousands they “follow” on Twitter.
Perhaps you could suggest to him that he starts following others, and at least gives the appearance of being less aloof. It might help his book sales.
Unfortunately, whatever good that was achieved by Tony Blair (and NI would come top for me as I come from there), Iraq will overshadow it.For too many people, removing Saddam Hussein was not enough reason to invade a country. People think of all the other dictators and wonder why him? The whole scandal regarding the dossier and the supposed WMD is the legacy of Tony Blair. He does not help himself by swanning around the world making more and more money. It is an undignified way for a former PM to behave in my opinion, no matter what political party. I don’t see any reason why he should not help with costs of his security as he certainly can afford it. As for the media we all know that Fame is a fickle thing and Tony Blair is now yesterday’s man unfortunately.Who knows, perhaps History will be kinder to him, but at present the repatriation of the bodies of the fallen troops is a constant reminder of the futility of war.
Looking forward to Mandelson’s book.
That should ‘set the cat amongst the pigeons”.
As a fan of Tony Blair, I find it hard to believe the Labour Party has fallen apart so fast. Where I live, I have voted Lib Dem, only cos Labour stood NO chance and I personally like the MP here, he does a good job and has the local problems and people in mind. So I voted for the person not the party. As for the media, it all stinks. I’ve worked in local newspapers for 20 years but no more…I was made redundant due to the downturn in advertising and profits for shareholders and I have no desire to return to it in any shape or form. That’s a problem trying to get another job as that’s all I have ever done. So I’m now among the ranks of the unemployed…making do with Jobseeker’s Allowance, seeing how JobCentre Plus works (not always great, the minor staff treat you like a cretin but other staff are wonderful). Recruitment agencies are useless mostly, apart from the lovely Jim who found me two interviews but no luck yet. Alistair, I reckon you are right about the real spin doctors but it’s local papers where the real news is…no celebrities, all local stuff, absolutely no spin although there are the whims of various editors who can be impossible to work with. However, in my opinion, that’s where REAL journalism lies, digging out stories that matter to everyone’s lives…maybe all political parties should concentrate their efforts in the regional press rather than national…??? That’s where you started after all.
London to a brick, Labour posters here suggesting TB will be forever damned for Iraq were also against TB’s liberation of Kosovo. And furthermore would have preferred TB to have just pulled out of NI and left it to the Real IRA.
So no votes there for TB on those issues, Alistair.
This of course is main reason Labour has been sentenced to Opposition. Enjoy. For at least 10 years probably 15.
AC you are right. I remember in the early 90s, when the place I worked at was close by an Army careers office in northern England and not far from some IRA bombing locations, how real the IRA threat felt. It was real. There seemed no end to the Northern Irish `problem`. It started (when I was 3) in 1969 and lasted until I was 32 in 1998. TB was the driving force in shifting the tectonic plates in Northern Ireland. It`s shameful how little credit is now given for that. The same applies to Kossovo. Going further back again, I remember watching Douglas Hurd on a programme called `Hard Talk` on BBC News 24 around 10 years ago talk about the Balkan war in the early 90s when he was Foreign Sec. It was put to him that he knew about the atrocities but the UK did…… nothing. I don`t think I`ve ever seen a senior politician be so contrite. Cameron will be the same – when it comes to tough foreign policy calls he`ll fudge and do zilch.
The Mail have got a small piece buried deep within World News about the hero’s welcome TB received in Kosovo. Surprisingly for the Mail (unless they subsequently re-edit it) it just presented the unvarnished facts without any angle or agenda. Some very nice photos as well.
Judging by the comments, the piece was met with utter confusion by the Mail’s regular readers, so used to having TB demonised. (However today they’ve got several high profile Blair-bashing stories, so normal service is now resumed.)
One comment, coming from an angle of total ignorance, suggested the Kosovans had been ‘brainwashed’. However another person made an excellent response which really hit the nail on the head. He/she said:
‘The brainwashed, my dears, are you lot. Blair was and still is a brilliant political leader … Wonder what you’ll all make of him if he is seriously instrumental in bringing peace in the Israel/Palestinian situation? Still a ‘warmonger’,’ liar’, ‘money in it’? ….
Blair is a great man, and more than that a good man. Many of us would love him to be free to wander his own country again in freedom and safety. But because of such as tick the ‘up’ recommend boxes here, he can’t.
Btw, Tony Blair has NOT been “proven” to be a liar. Except by press and thus public opinion. Or did the “troof” come to you lot it in a dream? An epiphany? Your fly-on-the-wall personal experiences?
Kathy: Unfortunately the same principles that drove Blair to relentlessly pursue a peace settlement in NI were the same that impelled him to liberate Kosovo from fascist dicator Miloseveic and then Iraq from from the even worse Hussein, and enabke those countries to now have properly elected democracies. He never, ever walked away from those principles and he explained them to you many, many times.
You couldn’t have the one (NI) without the other two, Kathy. But you didn’t respect a Labour PM with consistency of prnciples. Instead you chose to force him out.
2006 sowing has now been reaped.Meanwhile TB and principles are playing a major role behind-scenes in resolving the Palestine/Israel.
And the lemmings lie at the bottom of the cliff as a Tory government runs your country again. Well done.