Leading article: Little words, major truths

Share
Related Topics
SOMETIMES the veil slips. It happened last week when a Yorkshire family insisted that the organs of one of their relatives could only be used for transplant in a white man or woman. It happened again when the commander of the British Army paratroops at the Bloody Sunday massacre revealed in a radio interview, 27 years after the event, that he took for granted that all Catholics in Northern Ireland were closet supporters of the IRA. And it happened - or so it seemed - for a third time when Tony Blair addressed a group of venture capitalists in the City of London and spoke, in an unscripted aside, about how he bore the scars of two years of battling with the recalcitrant public sector.

It is in such small incidents that we sometimes learn big truths about ourselves and our society. What was revealed here? Among the Sheffield family we glimpsed a racism more visceral and deep-rooted than liberal society usually cares to acknowledge. In the case of Colonel Derek Wilford, who commanded the contingent of British Paras at the 1972 incident in which 14 unarmed civil rights protesters died, we gained an insight into the ill-informed culture of Para paranoia which evidently coloured the attitude of some British soldiers in their dealings with the "alien" peoples of Ireland.

And in the case of the Prime Minister? It may be that we momentarily caught sight again of the Thatcherism which lies at the heart of much of his modernising vision for Labour. Or it may, more likely perhaps, be that we saw something of the technique which the Janus-faced Labour leader has employed since first elected to the head of his party. One of Tony Blair's least-likeable characteristics is the chameleon manner in which he contrives to take on the characteristics of his surroundings. He has a habit of telling a group of people whatever he thinks they want to hear - and then going to a group of a very different hue and doing the same thing for them.

In the City last week he was caught out. There was something distinctly unpleasant in the sneering tone he used to his audience of money men, with his clubbish aside about how he bore on his back the scars of the refusal by those in the public sector to accept change. His extemporisation was, his spin doctors last week privately acknowledged, a faux pas. Doctors, nurses, teachers and low-paid public workers were outraged. Few will be placated by the insistence of his backroom briefers that the Prime Minister was referring not to such groups but to truculent and intransigent civil servants when he spoke about people rooted to the concept that "if it has always been done this way, it must always be done this way". Small wonder that he has so spectacularly fallen out with John Prescott, his deputy, and bearer of the Old Labour standard, on the issue of Labour's attitude to the public sector.

The nation is increasingly entitled to ask where Tony Blair really stands. Is it with his pre-election hint, in the Observer, that socialism was safe in his hands? Or with the Bulldog Blair who writes in the Sun? Is it with the commuter's friend who demands a integrated transport policy? Or the controller of the public purse who refuses to fund it? Is it with the pre-occupation with the primacy of profit and economic efficiency of a man who wants to sell off the Post Office? Or with his much-vaunted sense of community which ought to see the value of preserving rural post offices as part of the vital fabric of a world in which there is such a thing as society?

This newspaper has in the past found much for which to commend Tony Blair - his tenacity in Ireland, Europe, his initiatives in fighting global warming, and his commitment to education and welfare reform. But there is much too in which his position smacks of cynical opportunism, such as the facile populism of last week's commitment to ban fox-hunting. Will the real Tony Blair please stand up? we might be tempted to demand. Yet we would not be so foolish to think that what would appear would be anything other than a projection of a politician who is all things to all focus groups. Which is not something that could ever be said about John Prescott.

React Now

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

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Shanghai  

Is Russia and China’s ‘Nato of the East’ more than a Potemkin alliance?

Nigel Morris
A petition calling for Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, to be included has been signed by nearly 200,000 people  

Let me list the reasons that the Green Party should definitely not be allowed into the TV election debates...

Mark Steel
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines