Jacob Heilbrunn

The Mendacity of Tony Blair

There are things to admire about Tony Blair. He refurbished the Labor Party, proving a deft steward who stripped it of the left-wing shibboleths that had become encrusted upon it like barnacles upon a rotting ship. None of his successors have matched his political successes. But then there are the things that are not so admirable, like the troublesome fact that he increasingly looks like one of the most mendacious prime ministers in British history.

The latest blot on Blair’s reputation is directly linked to his well-deserved reputation as a devious master of spin. A newly released email about him by Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, suggests a degree of callousness and cold contempt for the truth that even the Borgias might have marveled at. But this virago was laid low by her role, among other things, in the phone hacking revelations that swept the British press. As editor of the tabloid News of the World, she oversaw a staff that did things like hacking into the cell phone of Milly Dowler, a young murder victim. The ensuing scandal did further damage to Rupert Murdoch’s already questionable reputation. The predatory practices he had refined to an art almost ended up demolishing his own newspaper empire.

Blair was unmoved. Some saw tragedy. He didn't. Instead, he saw a situation to be managed. He paused from overseeing his seven homes and incessant globe-trotting to counsel Brooks. What was Blair’s advice to Brooks, who is defending herself from a number of charges, including conspiracy to tap cell phones and bribe public officials? Duck and cover. In the email that Brooks sent and that has now been made public, she, Brooks, said that Blair had told her how to weather the unpleasantness. The Guardian reports:

 

Brooks's email, which was sent the day after the News of the World's final issue was published, says that Blair advised her to set up a "Hutton style" inquiry into phone hacking at the Sunday tabloid, and that he had offered to act as an unofficial adviser on a "between us" basis.

 

This intrusion into a criminal affair by a former prime minister seems remarkable on the face of it. Blair had no business offering Brooks any advice. But his reference to a “Hutton style" inquiry is also telling. Blair is a master of evasion who never acknowledged that the Iraq War was a disaster, never took responsibility for fudging the evidence that led to it. Instead, when David Kelly, a prominent weapons expert who told the BBC’s Andrew Gilligan that the Blair cabinet had willfully exaggerated—or, as it came to be known, "sexed up"—its claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, was found dead on July 18, 2003 in the woods of Oxfordshire, Blair appointed Lord Hutton to conduct an investigation. The Hutton report concluded that he had committed suicide. But it is seen by a number of Britons as a white-wash. The suspicion that Kelly was murdered lingers on. Either way, it was a sordid episode that tarnished Blair’s reputation. That he would refer so cynically to the Hutton report—a white-wash, at a minimum, of Blair's culpability for misleading the British public about Iraqi WMD efforts—will cast further doubt upon the reliability of its findings.

Blair may have left Downing Street years ago, but he continues to cast a baleful shadow over the United Kingdom. The lies of the Iraq War have seeped into everything he does. If anyone still has doubts about his fundamental meretriciousness—his zeal to subordinate truth to convenience, his readiness to mislead, his talent for subterfuge and obfuscation—the latest revelations about his peculiar approach to justice should amply put them to rest. Meanwhile, the trial of the woman whom Blair offered to serve as a "secret advisor" continues on Thursday.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Joan Magi. CC BY-SA 3.0.