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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
  • @Simon_Kelner

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.