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In 1997, Peter Horrocks, the then editor of Newsnight and now director of the World Service, told his staff that the hard-hitting journalism of the Tory years should cease now Tony Blair was in power. "Labour has a huge mandate," he said as if he thought it should influence impartial journalism. "Our job should not be to quarrel with the purpose of policy but question its implementation. Ennui is over — for now. Much of our tricksiness and world-weariness was an appropriate way of capturing the repetitiveness of the dying days of Conservatism. Our job now is to explore what's new...We don't need to be clever-clever."

Thirteen years on, it is easy to forget the depth of the media's love for Blair, or recall that New Labour was as much a movement among broadcasters and print journalists as politicians. Tory columnists and editors abandoned their party to declare their admiration for the inspiring young leader. Greg Dyke and his contemporaries sent profits from the sale of their London Weekend Television shares Blair's way in the form of Labour party donations. 

Love-hate relationship: Tony Blair in 1997 

Blair's combination of social and economic liberalism appealed to rich, right-thinking media executives, as did his telegenic charisma. He was the finest political performer they had seen, as I found out in the late 1990s, when Verso, a left-wing publisher, produced a book of my determinedly anti-Blair essays. The hapless designer searched for unflattering pictures of Tony to illustrate the cover, and concluded that they did not exist.

From the moment he used to leave his home, Blair knew that photographers could catch him at any moment in an unflattering pose. So he was forever smiling, forever affable. He was the best, and the media adored him for it. "The corridors of Broadcasting House were strewn with empty champagne bottles," said BBC Radio Five Live's Jane Garvey, as she tactlessly revealed her colleagues' glee at Labour's victory. "There was always the suggestion that the BBC was full of pinkos who couldn't wait for Labour to get back into power. That may have been the case...Er, I wish I hadn't started this now." 

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows in liberal London, you just need to tune in to Andrew Marr. Watching him reduce Alastair Campbell to tears after his appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry last month, I wondered, not for the first time, what had happened to the intelligent and principled Blairite I had known in the 1990s. "600,000 people" had died in Iraq, Marr told Campbell, as he made the case for the prosecution, and his battered interviewee did not have the wit to reply that 600,000 people had done nothing of the sort. Marr's figure came from the Lancet in 2006 — the journal that had also published the claim that the MMR jab could cause autism — and did not begin to tally with returns from Iraq's hospitals and mortuaries. Only Trotskyists, Islamists and BBC presenters credit it, and they repeat the accusation without ever specifying who did the killing — which, as ever, is a warning to everyone listening to be on their guard. When Marr said that "600,000 people died", he left the implication hanging in the air that British and American forces rather than Baathist and Islamist death squads had murdered them. Marr and all those like him have to hide the killers' identities because precision would force them to admit that, whatever they thought of Blair's decision to go to war, they had a duty to shake themselves out of passivity and oppose fascism in its secular and clerical varieties. They might then have to admit that the men and women in the armed forces who were fighting both forms of fascism were not necessarily the criminal accessories of an "illegal" war. That they can never do.

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March 2nd, 2010
12:03 PM
Nick, since you mention a phrase I used some long time ago - "Blair baiting" - you might like to send readers to sign this - and even consider doing so yourself: It's not MY petition but of course I have signed it. Well, who wouldn't unless they think Blair is the Devil Incarnate?

March 1st, 2010
11:03 PM
I think you've misunderstood my point. I'm talking about your closing paragraph: One day, probably about 30 years from now, a cultural historian will go through the political television of our time and wonder why, if Blair was such a palpably evil man, he managed to win so many elections. And just noting that given you used to describe Blair as evil, when he was winning elections by landslides, you must be able to imagine explanations how he can be evil and win elections?

Nick Cohen
February 28th, 2010
10:02 AM
But Matthew I don't have a legal duty to be impartial, the BBC and Channel 4 do. Much of the slipperiness and cowardice of their broadcasting flows from the fact that a minority of broadcasters are not impartial but must pretend that they are. The result, as I say, is infantilism.

February 26th, 2010
5:02 PM
To be fair Nick you used to describe Blair as evil, malevolent, cowardly even though he won elections, so it can't be mutually exclusive.

February 26th, 2010
4:02 PM
"Only Trotskyists, Islamists and BBC presenters credit it, and they repeat the accusation without ever specifying who did the killing" I don't think this is true and it's the only peer-reviewed study available. But anyway other studies have shown a higher figure (and of course others a lower). One comprehensive one, The Iraq Family Health Study came up with about 150,000 deaths from violence, and 400,000 excess deaths from all causes, in the period up to 2006. It hasn't received much coverage.

February 26th, 2010
1:02 PM
"why, if Blair was such a palpably evil man, he managed to win so many elections. " Only if they confuse Blair's charm with his ethics. History is littered with people who were better at giving dinner parties than administering countries.

February 26th, 2010
10:02 AM
You MUST have asked yourself, Nick, how BAD the MSM-Blair marriage had to have been for the jilted party to be so vicious in plotting and taking its revenge! All this because of Iraq? I don't think so! I fear we are past the time when any politician will ever again be judged impartially.

February 25th, 2010
5:02 PM
One day, probably about 30 years from now, a cultural historian... You do not need to wait for so long. I watch the BBC from my country, Sapin, and very often ask myself that very question. As a matter of fact, I started doing so with Thatcher.

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