Martin Hickman: A silken performance from Blair the master escapologist

Blair achieved everything he had set out to do at the Leveson Inquiry

Share
Related Topics

Tony Blair earned his Teflon tag today. Assured and articulate, Labour’s longest-serving prime minister put in a silken performance at Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice. Even when a protester stormed into the courtroom and shouted “war criminal” within feet of his perma-tanned face, Mr Blair the world statesman, maintained his composure, airily dismissing the intrusion with a flick of his left hand.

In coming to the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Blair appeared to have two missions: a) to agree that he felt the press barons had become too powerful and required reform and b) to demonstrate that he himself had never behaved improperly in wooing them.

The chief topic was his relationship with Rupert Murdoch. Had Mr Blair done a deal with News Corp’s chief executive in 1995 two years before his general election landslide? Had he granted Mr Murdoch’s News International favours in return for the wholehearted support of its papers at three general elections? Was he a close friend of the octogenarian proprietor?

On everything, Mr Blair, his hands constantly moving and emphatic, delivered what appeared to be off-the-cuff answers which were, on closer inspection, both carefully-worded and often diversionary. The deal? "There was no deal on issues to do with the media... and to be fair he never sought such a thing,” he replied, carefully limiting any accusation to “media issues” rather than the general understanding they are said to have reached, that New Labour would be good for Mr Murdoch’s business in return for his papers giving Labour a “fair wind”.

No, Mr Blair had not changed to policy for Mr Murdoch; he did what he thought was right, though he may have carefully presented his messages to The Sun on issues such as Europe (He had entered government a “pro-European” and he left office still a “pro-European”, he stressed)

Asked whether he was a close friend of the tycoon, he was presented with a rather fact which limited his wriggle-room: Mr Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng had last year embarrassingly disclosed that the former Labour leader was godfather to their daughter. Evasively, Mr Blair replied that the relationship with Mr Murdoch had changed since he had left office; in office the relationship had been a “working relationship” but afterwards it had changed. (He couldn’t bring himself to confirm that he was a close friend of Mr Murdoch – but nor, given the evidence, could he deny it.)

He seemed to be keen to attack the Daily Mail, and to limit criticism of Mr Murdoch.

The “appalling” things which had happened in Mr Murdoch’s business – which Mr Blair did not name, but which commentators might assume were widespread criminality including phone hacking, computer hacking, corruption of police, and allegedly conspiring to pervert the course of justice – were just “one aspect” of his otherwise laudable work in the UK.

By lunchtime, Mr Blair had achieved everything he had set out to do – not incriminate himself. Unusually, Robert Jay, QC, did not save his best for last and the session ended with a cosy chat between Lord Leveson and Mr Blair about press reform. Once again, the master escapologist had slipped out of trouble.

Martin Hickman is a reporter for The Independent and co-author of 'Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz