Alastair Campbell once famously punched the Guardian’s Michael White in the face. A commendable thing to do, undoubtedly, as Mr White is the very incarnation of pomposity and self-righteousness. Quite possibly the best thing Campbell has ever done. But the brief spat (White hit back, according to White) was revealing in another way. Robert Maxwell had just drowned by falling off his yacht and Campbell, then working in the lobby for Maxwell’s paper, the Daily Mirror, took exception to White’s glee at this watery end to the proprietor’s life. ‘Captain Bob, Bob, Bob!’ White chortled, so Campbell punched him. He adored Maxwell and was his ‘close adviser’, no matter that the sunken Czech was regarded by most of the rest of the world as a fat, lying crook with megalomaniac tendencies.
This is the thing about Alastair. He has a kind of deep man-love for messianic bullies, no matter how immoral they might be. Not long after this incident, Campbell transferred his crush to Tony Blair, which is how we will remember him — as a liar’s paid liar. It was a love close to worship – ‘Tony’ could do no wrong. Even now there are only two people in the country who think that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was anything other than catastrophic. Just Tony and Alastair.
So if you had secured an interview with Blair, who out of the 60 million people in this country would be the worst possible person to do it? Like getting Vladimir Putin’s dog to interview Vladimir Putin. Anyway, GQ magazine commissioned Campbell to slobber at Blair’s feet for an hour in a video interview.
It ought to be said that GQ has form, too. In 2014 it made Blair ‘Philanthropist of the Year’, something which seems to be beyond the reach of satire. I was sacked as their mock agony aunt for taking the piss out of the award in my column, because it seemed impossible not to. But I suspect the editor has a bit of a thing about the smarmily powerful, or the powerfully smarmy — take your pick. He has employed both Campbell and Peter Mandelson and his love for Blair is exceeded only by his adoration of David Cameron. I suppose editors need to get on with politicians sometimes — but they should at least secretly hate them, surely.
The most newsworthy point to emerge from this smirking and self-regarding cringe-fest came when Blair attacked, at Campbell’s prompting, the media for having ‘crossed the line’ over Brexit. Or more properly, he attacked newspaper proprietors — Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay brothers, Richard Desmond, the Daily Mail and General Trust — for having formed a cabal determined to enforce Brexit upon a dumb and pliant population by false reporting, or ‘lying’ as Campbell put it, and not offering a balanced debate. I suppose that this is an extension of the familiar Remain refrain that the people who voted Leave were too thick to know what they were doing —were simply uneducated dupes, vulnerable to the Machiavellian manipulations of evil, wealthy newspaper owners.
This shows, if nothing else, that Tony Blair still retains an astonishing capacity for self-delusion; the same sort of self-delusion which led him to believe you could bomb the Middle East into democracy because that’s really all they want, those Arabs. The Times, a Rupert Murdoch newspaper, was strongly for Remain. In fact, two of the three daily national broadsheet newspapers (the Guardian and the Times) were for Remain. Of the tabloids, the Sun was for Leave and the Mirror for Remain. And both sides were as partisan as each other.
I think you would have to be a little deranged, then, to consider that the evil was all on one side, and heavily weighted in favour of Leave. Further, Blair ignores the indisputable fact that almost the entire establishment, aside from the fourth estate, was heavily and vociferously in favour of remaining in the EU.
The government was split on the issue and all other parties with significant representation in the House of Commons were in favour of Remain. The Lords were in favour of Remain. So was most big business, an overwhelming majority of luvvie celebs, almost all trade unions, influential patrons of the arts, scientists, economists, charities and pressure groups. In the end it was simply the people who were for Leave. And the welter of propaganda they were fed! Blair seemed to suggest that he would not have allowed the horrible proprietors to get away with it, if he were still in charge. Very much in favour of the media, then, our Tony, when it prosecutes a case of which he is in favour. Less happy when it is divided.
Shortly after losing an hour of my life watching this excuse for an interview, I lost another hour watching the Labour manifesto launch. There is a link, of course. Every time some patent halfwit — Diane Abbott, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Dawn Butler — turns up in a TV studio to demonstrate the debating abilities of a block of Cathedral City cheddar cheese and a grasp of detail that would appal even Boris Johnson, the finger points straight back at Tony Blair. It may well be that Corbyn, McDonnell and those Momentum monkeys loathe Blair even more than I do. But Corbyn’s rise to leader of the Labour party was not merely a reaction to the Tony Blair years; it was directly facilitated by them. The Blairite rump of the parliamentary Labour party had no more affinity with its core blue-collar voters than the Islingtonians who now run the show. And they could be castigated at every turn for the hideous foreign misadventures perpetrated by Blair, for which they voted. And then, just to make Jeremy Corbyn’s position even more secure, they instigated a pointless coup against him which everyone knew they were going to lose. Oddly enough, Alastair Campbell did not make any of these points in his interview.