'I'm more open to the idea that politicians may be lying to me'
Newsman Adam Boulton, whose Tony Blair book comes out tomorrow, talks to Matthew Bell
Sunday 05 October 2008
As I arrive at Sky's Millbank studio, Adam Boulton is live on air breaking the news of Sir Ian Blair's resignation. Already that morning he has interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury about Dostoevsky. The day before, just back from Manchester, via Washington DC, he reported from the Tory conference from 6am to 10pm. The man is a news dynamo.
And yet, despite the workload – he is contracted to work a 45-hour week for Sky, spread over six days – Boulton has knocked off his first book, yet another addition to the groaning Blair-studies shelf – Tony's Ten Years: Memories of the Blair Administration.
"I didn't want to write my memoirs," says Boulton in his defence. "It's rather high-minded, but I had Johnson's Lives of the Poets in mind as I wrote." In 2006 Boulton married Tony Blair's former gatekeeper Anji Hunter, who, he hints, disapproves of the book. "I got absolutely zero co-operation from Anji, because her view is she doesn't think people should be doing this."
He says Tony Blair made "a serious mistake" in allowing Alastair Campbell to pre-plan his memoirs as his pension. "Basically it gave licence to everybody else. Why shouldn't Lance Price write his book if Alastair is writing his book, or why shouldn't other people violate the Blairs' privacy if Cherie Blair is violating her own privacy?"
Perhaps surprisingly for a journalist, Boulton believes there is a danger that too much information can be disclosed. "I do think this is an area where politicians would be well advised, in their own interest, to look at the rules again and maybe having a time rule, or maybe just not do it, because there will always be the risk that people will be tarnished."
Although the book is written with a dry impartiality that will appeal to future historians, in person Boulton is happy to share his views. He blames the Blair administration for wreaking lasting damage to relations between the media and Number 10.
"I'm not accusing the present Downing Street administration of lying to me but I would say that that has entered into the culture," he says. "People now don't bat an eyelid at the idea that there are now people in there looking after their bosses, and that includes misleading journalists. I hope the damage is not irreparable, but at the moment we're using our unwritten constitution to justify quite a lot of bad behaviour."
In the book Boulton claims he was misled by Alastair Campbell."There has been a change. I'm now much more open to the possibility that politicians may be lying to me, in a way that I wasn't when I started."
He says that the age of the vilified Sir Bernard Ingham, press secretary to Margaret Thatcher, was very different. "If you accused him of a lie, he would not let it lie. He would feel that was the worse thing you could say about him. Whereas now there is a sense that, for the good and faithful servant, to be Alastair-like is part of the job."
Lately, Boulton has become an enthusiastic blogger and is enjoying his new writing career. "None of us knows where we're going to be in five years' time," he says ominously, but the BBC seems an unlikely destination for him. He has been approached several times but says "it's never been one of my ambitions to work for a state bureaucracy". Money is one reason, but Boulton also values the editorial independence that Sky offers him.
BBC TV, he says, "has grown up predominantly as a producer's medium and an editor's medium and the presenter is added on at the last moment. Nick Robinson, [the BBC's political editor] knows a lot more than he is able to put in his packages. If you take Newsnight, I am constantly amazed at the standoffish relationship between the institution and Jeremy [Paxman]. It's been bubbling under for a time."
The corporation is ripe for reform. "My view is that we're clinging to nurse with the BBC .... The BBC is so large and so well-funded that there isn't much point talking about a Sky monopoly. Given the size of the BBC, there is probably only room for one commercial news organisation that can be viable. Sky News struggles to break even, and the reason is that so much of the market is filled by the licence payer."
Without the BBC, he says, the media would be "more pluralistic, more vital". As it is, he thinks Sky News and ITN should be allowed to merge – an unlikely proposition. "I think there is enough money out there that we don't need the BBC. I just think it's gone mad. The BBC is a monster."
Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of Sky News, would doubtless agree.
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