Tony Blair At The Leveson Enquiry: Miliband And Cameron Should Watch And Learn

The jazz hands, confidence and diversionary tactics Tony Blair displayed at the Leveson shows that, while you may not agree with his politics, you have to admire his charisma.
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The jazz hands, confidence and diversionary tactics Tony Blair displayed at the Leveson shows that, while you may not agree with his politics, you have to admire his charisma.

Within 30 minutes of sitting down at the Leveson Inquiry, Tony Blair had the whole room eating out of the palm of his hand and had listed all his achievements whilst he was in government. He even managed a couple of sly digs at the Daily Mail. It is also worth noting that no other witness has, so far, had the court laughing along with his quips.

That is how you do it. Never forget that Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a lawyer by trade and possesses a sharp mind. Are you watching David Cameron? This man is a professional and showed the world that form is temporary but class, regardless of what you think of his politics, is permanent.

He arrived to give evidence about the British media, but was soon talking about hospitals and schools, all intelligent frowns and knowing smiles. It was a master class in public speaking. He acknowledged that the relationship between politics and the media had grown to cosy over the years, but smoothly implied that this had always been the case. Blair also admitted that he had made a 'strategic decision' not to tackle the issue on his watch.

Why? He said to take on the modern press barons would've cost too much: 'The price you paid for that would actually push out a lot of the things that I cared more about'.

This man is a professional and showed the world that form is temporary but class, regardless of what you think of his politics, is permanent.

What we witnessed today in Court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice was a master class from a statesman and purveyor of political persuasion the likes of which we haven't seen since he handed power to Gordon Brown. There is no-one quite like Tony.

But wait: Let's not get caught in the hype of Tony Blair. Not again. His persuasive, mesmeric doublespeak has already led the UK into an illegal war, as his rather animated heckler reminded us. Blair is great at tricking the public into thinking he's answered a question, but a cursory check of the transcript or Hansard proves that he didn't. You get a feeling that he's as sincere as Jessica Ennis is fat.

His comments are punctuated with classic, “you-know's” and “frankly’s” and diversionary hand gestures that appeared to be spontaneous, but on inspection were very cautious and non-committal. He assured the inquiry that there were no insidious deals with Murdoch, and his cabinet had not changed policy to appease the Digger.

By admitting that he had decided to “manage, not confront” the unhealthy relationship that the media had with politicians, he revealed a chink in his armour, the flaw in his Teflon coat: He doesn't like confronting those of a similar level to him. Perhaps even his earlier swipes at the Daily Mail were an attempt to divert some attention away from Murdoch to a weaker foe. Arguably, all his problems with Gordon Brown stem from his unwillingness to deal with the man’s dissent early on in his leadership instead of letting Brown cause the mayhem he ultimately did.

Blair is great at tricking the public into thinking he's answered a question, but a cursory check of the transcript or Hansard proves that he didn't.

He didn't quite come out and say he was a personal friend of Rupert, and he was very careful not to do so. He paid lip-service to the “appalling things” that happened in Murdoch's empire, which we can reasonably assume to include allegations of phone hacking, bribery, intimidation and the corruption police officers. Blair said, in reasonable tone, that these things were only one part of News International's apparently 'laudable' work in the UK.

By the lunchtime recess, and after taking a heckler in his stride (Well played for using the live feed to refute David Lawley-Wakelin's accusations there-and-then, Tony) the longest serving Labour prime minister had achieved his aim of not incriminating himself.

When the hearing resumed after the break, those of us who have seen more of Robert Jay than we care to admit, anticipated a broadside from the cunning Queen’s Counsel. It was always in the afternoon session when he previously delivered his most devastating salvos.

But we were left disappointed. After less than an hour of uncharacteristically indirect questioning it was over. Lord Leveson waffled on again - “throwing ideas about” in his own words – on possible ways to regulate the press in the future and then with muted thanks and one last shark-smile, Tony Blair left the courtroom.

Those watching, hoping for revelation from Mr Blair were left deflated and reporters referred back to their notebooks and Dictaphones to see if he had said anything at all. We did, however, learn that he’s still got it. Tony dripped class and conducted himself with his characteristic charm and intelligence. Say what you will about his politics, the man is a gifted politician. He even managed to deliver a cracking little soundbite with the memorable line, “You begin at your least capable and most popular, and you end at your least popular and most capable.”

Blair has aged well; a subtle tan and greying hair gave him an air of a victorious Caesar returning to Rome to answer questions on a controversial campaign on the frontier. Compare this measured statesman to the pasty and quick to anger ‘Flashman’ Cameron or the Aardman animation-looks of Miliband and you begin to feel a pang of nostalgia for the Brit Pop and optimism of early New Labour.

Neither Jay nor the protester Lawley-Wakelin laid a glove on Blair and he knew it. The closest anybody got to hitting him with anything was the bloke who pelted his car with an egg as it pulled away from The Strand.

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