In 1987 the Gruniad started an article describing Tony Blair like this: “A man without a shadow”; a “pleasant man with a pleasant family living in a pleasant North London house”; a bright, telegenic, yet elusive politician with a “smooth facade.” How prescient they were. But fast forward thirty years and poor Tony pitches up in Dublin expecting rapture and got pelters. If it’s A Journey we’ve all been along for the ride.
Looking back over this past week there’s three big stories: Coulson (with some lovely new dimensions), Hague and Blair which all revolve around the same fundamental issue, which is the media. Not just it’s inaccuracy, shallowness or political bias but it’s collapse into something that moronically chases celebrity in a futile bout of muckraking. In fact our media is a reflection of our failed political system.
The Coulson affair is astonishing, first that he was appointed, second that he is still in office. But that the tabloid press has descended further into a desperate moral void should surprise no-one. It certainly undermines the claims of higher order being given against ‘bloggers’ from the mainstream media. There seems to be some lack of clarity about ‘bloggers’ and Paul Staines, known as Guido Fawkes. Paul Staines is a former member of the Committee for a Free Britain, a shadowy organisation which was funded by Sir James Goldsmith, Rupert Murdoch and David Hart. His self described role with the organisation was as “a foreign policy analyst”. His role in the Hague smears is clear but he shouldn’t be confused as an agitator, libertarian or speaker of truth to power. His rise to prominence is about three things: the rise of reactionary forces in England (and way beyond), a post-ideological culture and a visceral anti-politics. But none of this would have been possible had the media not been full of bored clueless churnalists driven again and again onto the web to pick up the sort of bile that Staines puts out, abely abetted by lap-dogs like Iain Dale.
To Blair, where the details are important: Eammon Mallie interviewed Tony Blair in Ireland earlier in the week and has commented that during the interview he noticed that he was wearing blue-suede shoes.
The more he (re)appears the lesser a figure he seems. Sue Townsend delivers perhaps the clearest analysis of the week (amidst the acres of newsprint) when she notes:
I read A Journey all night and into the early hours. At 5.10am I had a revelation. Mr Blair surrounded himself with Alpha Males: Alastair Campbell, Gordon Brown, John Prescott, Margaret Beckett, Philip Gould, Jonathan Powell and Peter Mandelson, yet he was not an Alpha Male himself. He was a receptacle and a conduit of their wishes and opinions. Mr Blair had as much self-belief as a chameleon.
She is quite right. Like the empty media that acted as a mirror to Blair’s career trajectory (Bambi staring into the pond) Blair swithered and swayed throughout his career and his book underlines this. Writing in the New York Times, Michiko Katutani comes to the same place:
Much of this book is fluently written, and the production as a whole seems meant to ratify Mr. Blair’s belief that he “was a big player, was a world and not just a national leader.” At the same time the book sheds little light on what drives Mr. Blair or shaped his political vision, and even less new light on how he came to take Britain to war against Iraq.
But the poison that is spilling out again into the Labour Party is uncontainable, and the gleeful reports of next years Holyrood elections will not be immune from it. As Iain Macwhirter has written today: “Blair’s bid to desecrate the political grave of Brown has lacerated Labour – forcing it to confront the truth that it remains deeply divided.”
That may be so but the gullibility and shallowness of the churnalist media may be as bored with Cameron and Nick as so much soap powder and attracted to the next telegenic political leader (especially if he’s fresh-faced unchallenging and vaccuous as surely any of Labours options are).
But the good news in all this and the flip-side of the nihilist bloggers is that the tactics of the alternative press and the emerging participatory media can guide the next Scottish election as much as the boors of the News of the World, the Scumday Times or the rest of the home-grown Scottish defenders of the Union.
Tomorrow, on the referendum question.