Simon Kelner: The giant confidence trick that twisted politics for ever

Our disillusionment with a government that embarked on a disastrous imperial war was only intensified by the aspirations we had in the first place

Share
Related Topics

Sometimes you see or hear something that harks back to an earlier time, and you can't help but get all soppily 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. The first time he began one of his answers 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 tiny little 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 (of which I was editor at the time) as the most pernicious of the newspapers who together represented "a feral beast, tearing people and reputations to shreds". Mr Blair had taken exception to our long-running campaign against the Iraq war, claiming that the paper had blurred the lines between news and opinion.

I don't deny we were loud and proud 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 we 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 yesterday 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 latterly to Mr Blair are surely informed by the way we all felt back in 1997, when he was swept into office on a tide of widespread support from people who thought that, yes, things could only get better. Our disillusionment with a government that embarked on a disastrous imperial war was only intensified by the aspirations we had in the first place.

Now, when I see him at Leveson – saying that he had nothing more than a "working relationship" with Rupert Murdoch – I feel compromised, 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 Lord Justice Leveson yesterday.

Blair's 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!

Hearing his voice yesterday was a chilling reminder of a time when public life, on either side of the media-political axis, became corrupted by arrogance, hubris, abuse of power, and the extraordinary 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: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
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