Simon Kelner: Blair's voice – a chilling reminder of what went wrong

Kelner's view

Share

Sometimes you see or hear something that harks back to an earlier time, and you can't help but get all sentimental and nostalgic.

Oh, how much better everything was back then. That was not exactly my reaction to events in Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday when Tony Blair took the stand at the Leveson Inquiry.

When he began an answer with his well-practised, high-handed, phoney man-of-the-people, glottal-stop infected verbal style – "Look, let me make one thing clear..." or "Look, that really isn't the case..." – I remembered everything uncomfortable about the Blair era. We have a bit of history, Tony and I, as he alluded to during his evidence. When he made his valedictory speech about the media in 2007, he singled out The Independent (I was editor at the time) as the most pernicious of the newspapers which together represented "a feral beast, tearing people and reputations to shreds".

Mr Blair had taken exception to our campaign against the Iraq war, claiming the paper had blurred the lines between news and opinion. I don't deny we were loud in our opposition to the invasion of Iraq, and, without exhuming a largely semantic argument – I believe we made it clear what was news and what was opinion, and credited our readers with knowing the difference – I couldn't help feeling that the sophistry on show yesterday brought to mind a deeply conflicted, and troubling, time in British politics.

Mr Blair made the point that a British PM takes over when he's popular and not very capable, and leaves office deeply unpopular but eminently capable. In his case, that's undoubtedly true, and our reactions to Mr Blair are surely informed by the way we felt in 1997, when he was swept into office by people who thought that, yes, things could only get better.

Our disillusionment with a government who embarked on a disastrous imperial war was only intensified by the aspirations we had in the first place. And now, when I see him at Leveson – saying that he had nothing more than a "working relationship" with Rupert Murdoch – I feel bizarrely compromised, as if taken in by a giant confidence trick.

Yet when you enumerate the Blair government's policy achievements – among them, independence for the Bank of England, the minimum wage, equality legislation, the human rights act, investment in public services – there is little doubt that, to my mind, he left Britain a better, more tolerant place than he found it.

That's not, however, why he was up before Leveson. His administration changed the dynamics between politics and the media, probably for ever, and an example of how out of touch he is was the statement that he wouldn't have considered becoming godfather to Murdoch's child while he was still at No 10. How very reassuring! And hearing his voice was a chilling reminder of when public life, on either side of the media-political axis, became corrupted by arrogance, abuse of power, and the tangle of vested interests.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing