Why this is not the exclusive story of Tony Blair's horrifying ordeal

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The Independent Online
I HAD very much hoped to have an article by Tony Blair in this space this morning, but unfortunately he has been whisked away by the newspaper to which he is contracted to a safe place in Northern Ireland, where he cannot be contacted.

"Mr Blair and his junior colleague Mr Hague have undergone a great deal of suffering and distress in the past few months," said the Daily Tabloid in a prepared statement, "so we do not think it is in their best interests to face the public just yet. Also, he is contracted to us exclusively for a large sum of money to talk to us and us only, and we propose to keep him to that. That is the end of our prepared statement."

Yes, but could you give us some idea, just off the record, of what this suffering was like?

"He has been kept in close confinement over the last year under most unpleasant circumstances, sometimes alone with Mr Netanyahu and Mr Arafat, sometimes alone with Mr Adams and Mr Trimble, sometimes alone with Mr Kohl and Mr Santer, sometimes alone with Mr Bill Clinton. Not surprisingly, the experience has driven him close to the edge of a breakdown, but miraculously he has come through the ordeal perhaps even stronger than before and determined to tell his story, which will be only in the Daily Tabloid. Thank you, this informal off-the-record briefing is now over."

And in what sort of shape does he seem now?

"Good shape. This additional, further off-the-record briefing is now over."

No, but in that case, just tell us why has he suddenly flitted off to Northern Ireland and started going around the place telling people that they must vote "Yes" in the referendum, as it is their only chance of peace, thus suggesting that he is seriously deranged...

"Well, we cannot speak for Mr Blair, of course, but I imagine he is saying that because he believes it."

But everyone knows that this kind of deal doesn't work! Blair himself has seen at first hand how the Oslo peace deal became unravelled. Why, he cannot even keep peace with his own unions! What chance has a gnarled old problem like Northern Ireland got?

"Look, I'm only the guy who issues prepared statements on behalf of the Daily Tabloid. If you want to find out what Mr Blair thinks, you will have to ask him yourself, which you can't do, because he is under exclusive contract to us."

A reader writes: Oh, come off it ! How long do you think you can keep up this parallel between Blair and Hague swanning round Northern Ireland, and the two nurses being released from their Saudi prison? Is there any more mileage in it?

No. I'm glad you stopped me there.

A reader writes: After all, there isn't really much similarity between the two, is there?

No. I'm sorry. Still, it is true that Tony Blair does sometimes write articles for the tabloids. Presumably he is under some kind of contract.

A reader writes: You don't suppose he gets paid for writing for the papers, do you?

Of course he does. You can't write a piece for a paper and not get paid for it. If no money changes hands, it would be the same as reprinting a press release free of charge.

A reader writes: Yes, but printing an article by someone like Tony Blair or one of his henchmen is going to be the same as printing a press release, isn't it? It's just giving him a free soap box. Or, if what you say is true, paying him to have a soap box.

Ah, but you forget one thing. Nobody reads what a politician says. They don't read their books and they don't read their articles.

A reader writes: Then why does anyone print their articles?

To obey the old rule of journalism: There must always be one thing in every paper and magazine which the reader safely feels he can ignore. It gives him the joyous feeling that he can skip something, and what better to skip than a politician's blathering ?

A reader writes: That makes sense. I will remember that in future. Thank you.

Not at all. It's been a pleasure.

On Monday! Exclusive to this column! "My Week of Hell in Northern Ireland with Tony Blair" by William Hague. The exclusive story of one man's confinement in the company of his sworn enemy. Don't miss it!