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To get all-party support, Cameron should indicate likely acceptance of Leveson plans when he appears

Posted on 29 May 2012 | 8:05am

Love him or hate him (I lean more to the former camp, you may be surprised to know) Tony Blair reminded a lot of people yesterday why he became the most successful political leader of recent times, and the most successful in Labour’s history.

It is not just that he is a good communicator, in a different league to the current PM who is a good PR man (which is different). It is more the fact that he can always analyse a problem, mount an argument, set out both a context and a framework for change.

The stuff on Murdoch, and the interruption by a protestor, inevitably took a lot of the coverage. But in terms of the future, perhaps the most significant point came when he made clear that if Lord Justice Leveson comes forward with radical proposals for change, and David Cameron tries to implement them, he would work to help build all-party support.

When I gave evidence for the second time, Leveson seemed rather troubled when I said I felt cross-party support would be difficult to gain. The reason was that I sensed in a speech by one of today’s witnesses, Michael Gove, who said the inquiry was having a ‘chilling’ effect on the press, the beginnings of a political strategy to get the Tories on the side of the press, and Labour on the side of Leveson.

So much has happened since then however to weaken Cameron, Hunt, Gove and Co, that the dynamics have changed, and empowered Leveson. However close people thought we may have been to sections of the press, it was like a very cold divorce compared with the incessant and incestuous dealings exposed so far. Papa! Yuk.

With witness after witness, Leveson seems to be asking the right questions, and yesterday gave a good idea of the areas where he is applying most of his thinking.

If he comes up with good and workable ideas for a regulator independent of politics and the media, but with real teeth, then Cameron does indeed deserve support in trying to get it through.

One of the disappointing things about this inquiry is that whereas the political class, as TB did again yesterday, have at least acknowledged the need for a change in culture on both sides, the bulk of the press have remained in what Leveson called ‘agressive defensive mode.’ They still don’t get it, and will fight hard against anything they think stops them maintaining the poisonous culture they have created. For papers like the Mail in particular, it is all they know, all that Paul Dacre can do, and they are too set in their ways to change. He is too slow to realise that it is his generation and his style of journalism that is dying out here.

I think I have told here before the story of my conversation with Cameron at Rebekah Brooks’ second wedding, when I said to him that if he became PM, and he decided to do something about the media culture, I would do what I could to get Labour to support him. He seemed to agree something needed to be done, but was unsure what. And of course as the election neared, the political imperative of trying to get the press onside took over, and as the inquiry has already seen, he got sucked in too deep.

The word is that he is devoting every spare moment to preparing for Leveson. Of course he has to have detailed answers to the difficult specific questions he will be asked. But he also needs a strategy – and his strategy should be to indicate that he is confident Leveson is on the right lines, that politics and the media will benefit from media policy being independent of both, that therefore he will almost certainly wish Parliament to implement whatever proposals the judge makes.

It puts a lot of responsibility on Leveson, and would to some extent be a risk for Cameron. But it will get him from where he is – a very bad place – to somewhere slightly better.

He has got to this bad place mainly via the Budget, because it showed that when push comes to shove, he is on the side of the rich and powerful ahead of the many. His stance on the press has confirmed that view, and he needs to shift it. His appearance before Leveson will be a big moment, and big moments are when perceptions can be changed. He should not be thinking whether, but how.

  • Chris lancashire

    Yes, he reminded me of why he became “the most successful political  leader of modern times”. His evidence yesterday was much like his term of office – said a lot, meant nothing.

  • Nick

    Cross party support for a body to control the press would be ideal.
    However I think Cameron will be more interested in saving his own slippery skin.
    Leveson has shown him to be to deep in the mire of “policy for support”.When the last barrier of Hunt is hung out to dry he will be exposed to the big question of ” Why did you employ him when you knew he was not impartial”.I cannot believe there is a credible answer to that

  • Ehtch

    Tony Blair to me walks on water, but not in the religious sense, and in both ways that is how I have found to bother this site. And as here today, gone tomorrow, visitors do say to one.

    I have only praise for the Tone, it was obvious certain part of the World was going nuts on us, and an attitude adjustment was required.

    When I was in that factory in south London, and me and the electricians and fitters were around that radio in 2001, I realised, the World has gone mad, so what comes, had my backing. Being on that plane to Boston, when that one went down in Long Island, but it seems now natural accident, or whatever, gave me the right wobblies to be so close to some sort of same repeat.

    I was in a pub in London Bridge Station, telling these doctors and nurses months before, after reading between the lines in the papers, something is going off and will happen.

    They must have thought I was nuts, as an average Merlin tends to be predicting, but….

  • ambrosian

    Why are you giving Cameron advice on how to get “from where he is – a very bad place – to somewhere slightly better”?

    Your altruism towards your enemies is admirable but since Team Cameron privately hold you in high regard and no doubt read your blog may I suggest that you feed them bad advice that will hasten Cameron’s progress to an even worse place. They are almost certainly stupid enough to follow it.

  • Blair’s strategy is bend the truth, which he is very good at.
    Des Currie

  • Anonymous

    Don’t know about all this, it seems the politicians (not just TB) are all saying “Oh its oh so hard to be a politician, the press are so tough on us don’t you know.” Er… no. I think the press are too soft on all of them, certainly for Cameron, Brown, Blair, Major and Thatcher that was the case.

    Lets have a change in the law whereby the press can be more brutal with politicians so that they get about 6 weeks each to move the country in a democratic direction and then they get booted out.

    Does the majority of the population in Britain agree with Cameron on austerity? With Blair on Europe and immigration? With Thatcher on monetarism? With Brown and Major on anything? No, so lets have a more powerful press so that we can say “next” far quicker.

  • Margaret Dunlop

    Still in my dressing-gown and from Inverness, I am a left-leaning 80 year grandmother..   Really enjoyed your blog of 29th May first time I have read a blog.   My husband and I Dr. Wiener are retired up here from Edinburgh to see more of grandchildren.   He has started to Twitter in my name and for my benefit, and discovered your interesting writing.   I am a Tony Blair admirer, and also admire you for your work and for giving £10,000 to the Labour Party.   I was a member for about a year in my youth.  

    Surprise comment about Gove and his reason for writing of the”chilling effect” on the press – I didn’t ever think of that!   Being a retired head teacher, I don’t think much of him.   You give great room to Cameron shifting from love of his rich class to helping the under-privileged and under-achievers.   I think he will do anything to remain in the limelight, be popular, and hasn’t got the intellectual ability or life-experience to really think things out like Gordon Brown or Tony Blair or yourself.   

    Keep up the good work.   It is so heartening.   My husband made me write this before I forgot my thoughts about it, and before I got dressed.  Regards.  Margaret Dunlop (Wiener)

  • Jacquie R

    Hmm! As I see it, Tony Blair’s appearance at Leveson yesterday was a joke. He was allowed to take over, he was probed on very little, nothing substantial was gleaned, Jay seemed half asleep, Lord Leveson seemed star struck and a unique opportunity was lost forever.

    Tellingly, Blair insisted that media ownership was not the problem. Wonder if he’d be saying that if the dominant owners were the Mail group, rather than his friends at News International.

  • Ehtch

    Alastair, with these extra duties you have taken up in life, post comments freely nilley why don’t you, no one with blame you if some are whatever hysterical, you can always delete them later, if you know technologically here know how, but it is easily learnt, if you are capable. Fancy hiring extra staff here, what with your extra coin coming from London living nothing? : )

    cv in the post, as if.

  • Ehtch

    Alastair, sorry for the tonnes/quite few post since very early morn, pick and choose and post. Obviously I would like you to post them all and freak everyone out, but I suppose that would make me and only me happy.

    Especially cycling down into Aberystwyth like a mad man by this European, stunning clip, overtaking everything in its town centre, only just on youtube, make sure you post this Alastair, with I suppose the Olympics coming up, and I suppose how wet BBC get their knickers get with cycling, but this is incredible road cyling training by someone from Europe for the Olympics,

    • Ehtch

      going down Tumble Hill hundred miles an hour it seemed to me, with people coming out of shops with their eyes on storkes, thinking, “who is that nutter”, before I had to cog down at the bottom in Cwmawr, before I had to pant up past my school, at only 20mph, uphill.

      I must have hit 60mph past that chapel, when I passed that bus, with passengers praising and waving.

  • Anonymous

    Talk today of Osborne plotting his takeover from Cameron. Not trying to undermine/overthrow but just positioning himself to the right, putting out feelers to the right of the party. In case Boris Johnson beats him to it.

  • Wiener

    It’s almost too much to hope that Cameron will accept Leveson report in advance – or ever – and if weasel words come from Gove your forebodings will be well founded

  • Ehtch

    Is your new job being written off against the Olympics, Alastair?

  • Anonymous

    I suspect Alastair will get more of a grilling on Have I Got News For You than Leveson has given anyone so far.

    It has been really soft on most of the big participants such as Murdoch and Blair. I suspect it will be very soft on Cameron too.

    It hasn’t even called Andrew Neil even though surely he is one of the most informed and anti-Murdoch, anti-establishment people out there.

    The only people it has been a bit harsher with have been Rebecca Brooks, Andy Coulson, Adam Smith and the Michel bloke.

    I can call it nothing else but a cover up, it seems it was a plan hatched between the powerful to appease the electorate, but was carved up beforehand to let the powerful off the hook, and just sacrifice a couple of small fry

  • Dan1 Smith

    Tony, look, you know, I mean, Blair is as moneygrubbing as the clique in power now; a legacy destroyed by Iraq (underwritten by you) at home in the company of his dreadful wife and dreadful billionaires, doomed, doomed, doomed to have his car pelted with eggs and his legacy rubbished ad infinitum.  This, look, you know, I mean, is justice…of a sort for someone who only, look, you know, pathetically wanted to be loved.

  • Anonymous

    Agree with you.  One can only hope it’s some kind of reverse psychology at work…

    I don’t care how beguiling Blair can be – he was always pretty lightweight, so if we mourn his passing it is merely a reflection of the dire state of politics in this country. I detest the fact that he is so wealthy when people have been immeasurably impoverished by the death of their own children.

  • Michele

     I’m appreciating the fact that everything is being conducted in such a civil way.
    You seem to just not get the nuance of what’s being uncovered.
    Those tiny little details lead up to the big stuff and close doors on any any backtracking.

    Yesterday morning, Blair and Jay, swooooooon, I was dribbling my espresso.

    Do you not understand the shamefulness of the Michel / Smith exchanges.  Do you know how much Spads get paid?  I had thought they were just a load of senior internes but nope, some of them are paid more than MPs.  

  • Michele

     Eeeek, a vampire that’s crawled out after 6m (watching and dribbling?).

  • Gilliebc

    I agree with all of that reaguns.    
    Cover up/whitewash is now the norm in this country. 

    People say that Cameron, Osborne et al are incompetent and inept.  It certainly appears that way.   But I and many others say no they are not incompetent.  It’s far worse than that.  They know exactly what they are doing and are deliberately engineering an economic collapse in this country.  

    You wrote recently reaguns that the 2008 economic crisis was bad, or words to that effect and that this double dip recession would not be as bad as 2008.  
    I fear your optimism is misplaced.  I believe that 2008 was merely a curtain raiser to something much much worse.  I hope I may be proved wrong on that but I genuinely fear that I and others will sadly be proved right.    

    Incidentally, have you read Agenda 21 ?  It mostly concerns the US but if allowed to be carried out it will most certainly affect the rest of the world too.

  • Michele

    It’s certainly frustrating that posts can take hours to appear but  it really does work out better in the end compared to those post-moderated sites where stuff arrives immediately but can be deleted without you even knowing. 

    At least here you know when it’s on it will stay …..
    I always used to wonder what pre-mod would be like and on balance, given that we only get ‘treated’ to the occasional EDL nutcase, it’s better. 
    I doubt any of them are censored/disallowed, they just give up trying after realising things can’t be sped up in to blather.

    I think that after what we saw at Leveson yesterday and seeing what’s visible every single day on Toxi blogs we know that this one could also be ruined as easy as pie in some futile experiment about ‘FoS’, so often contorted to become verbal violence.

    • Ehtch

      Yep, agreed. I have been banned from The Guardian from posting, maybe because LibDems names sprechan, or maybe I am welsh, and don’t live in London Islington. Who knows Michele, I certainly don’t, they haven’t told me, since they seem to have not enough respect of me to tell me reasons. Shall I cancel The Observer through my letterbox on Sunday? Hmmm, it is a thought. Told the locals that followed my posts there said “you were cutting, that is all”. Anyway, only posted there to speak to Charlie Brooker after all.

  • Bar Bar of Oz

    Hey, Ali, was Mrs Gus Fisher a hot dish? Hilarious to see TB stammering, blushing and discombobulated!

  • Anonymous

    Seen Alastair’s views on twitter today, I agree that Gove is more right wing than people think. He is far to the right of Cameron, and probably the likes of Hague, Osborne, Johnson etc too.

    But I must admit on the press I agree with everything Gove said today. Much rather have a powerful press than an overly powerful government. If labour think its bad to have a tory press against them, what about if they have a tory-government-controlled press against them, thats better?!

    While we are discussing Gove, I think I agree with Janan Ganesh who asked today why Labour oppose Gove so much when most of what he is doing is carrying on the good work of Blair. Isn’t that true? One of the things I liked most about Blair was that he was a reformer, yes he put more money into services and the money certainly helped, but he started reform as well, and changing mindsets. What is so different about Gove, other than possibly the fact he/his govt isn’t backing reforms with cash? I am not looking for an argument on this one, I am genuinely asking. Seems to me that both Blair and Gove want to reform schools, improve standards etc but neither want to go back to the 11 plus system. Both have spoken strongly I believe against private/public schools, though so far neither’s actions have backed that up. What is the big difference?

  • Ehtch

    I am sure it is Chris Boardman…..

  • Ehtch

    Perjury? String him up at Carter Bar, to teach the english not to feck about, Alex Salmond.

  • Jacquie R

    Appreciate what you say but, to be fair, I really don’t think it’s a cover up and, apart from this and a few other occasions, I’ve been pretty impressed by both Jay and Leveson. They are bringing matters to light that would have been beyond my wildest expectations a year ago.

    Of course they are “part of the establishment”, but that doesn’t mean they’re in cahoots with it. On the other hand, I’m not expecting the final recommendations to be as radical as they need to be!

  • Janiete

    Tony Blair’s detractors have been very active on Twitter and on this blog I see, since his appearance at the Leveson Inquiry. It seems to me that there is a great deal of dishonest representation of both his politics and his motives by people who are not interested in looking at any evidence that may show him to be a decent leader who actually tried to do his best and achieved rather a lot. For many on the far left and for a lot of conspiracy theorists, nothing short of a public flogging or worse, will do.

    Too many people have exaggerated his policies in an attempt to discredit him, and in and out of the Party he has been depicted as pursuing policies which were indistinguishable from a Tory agenda. Tories (and LibDems) are now happy to do the same as not only does this cause trouble within Labour ranks, it also allows them to present what they are currently doing as centrist and moderate, merely more of the same.

    Of course it is true that TB, whilst Labour Leader, was on the right flank of the Party, but a Tory he was not. If anyone doubts this they should look at the evidence of what the Labour Party achieved while he was PM. A massive growth in investment in all aspects of the public sector in an effort to improve society for the majority, especially for those dependent on public services. A serious attempt to tackle crime, not just to protect the wealthy, but to address concerns of people living in deprived areas. Has any Tory government grown the public sector for the benefit of the deprived, or for that matter, to benefit the majority? Certainly none in my lifetime.

    Before the election, I was in conversation with some clients of a local spinal injury charity about politics in general. One man, with a serious neurological illness said ‘Tony Blair was a Tory’ to much amusement and agreement around the table. Now, disabled people just like those I spoke to, are being vilified in the press eager to follow the Government’s ‘scrounger’ narrative. Many people who lead very difficult lives are facing the loss of public service support, incapacity  benefit and DLA. I wonder how many of those who were present on that day, now they have had another taste of what real Tories like to do, still think the same way. Or, as is so often the case in life, have they been reminded that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.


  • Janiete

    Oh dear! I thought your support for the views of Andrew Neil and Peter Oborne was bad enough but Michael Gove and Janan Ganesh? No wonder we rarely see eye to eye!

  • Janiete

    It’s heartening to hear of older people using and enjoying social media. It’s a great way of sharing news, views and interests and brings people of all backgrounds together. I’m a great fan, as is my 81 year old dad with almost 2000 followers. He’s getting so many responses he says he needs a secretary!

  • Michele

     I think you’re being really mean. 

    Master Gove had to be so obsequious, I’m sure he and his family couldn’t cope without his wife’s salary from NI in addition to his own as an MP plus that as a minister.  Who could?

  • reaguns

    Haven’t heard of Agenda 21, will look it up.

    I don’t think I would have said this double dip recession will not be as bad as 2008? I think you are talking about when I said that Cameron/Osborne have not had to deal with a disaster on the scale of 2008 yet.

    As for which crisis is worse, that remains to be seen. Our (global “our”) actions in 2008 guaranteed that there would be a sovereign debt crisis, and depending on what we do about it we may take actions that will guarantee the next one sill be a currency crisis (affecting dollar and euro and everything else.) We also guaranteed there will be more bank crashes because we promised them that if they mess up, we will bail them out, therefore they will keep gambling. We removed whatever trace of capitalism there was from our system.

  • reaguns

    Didn’t know how much spads got paid, I imagined it varied. Suppose I would have thought MPs would get paid more. Then again a spad for the chancellor I’d expect to get more than a backbencher (do backbenchers have spads?)

    Yes I understand the shamefulness of the Michel / Smith exchanges but I do not believe much will happen. Jeremy Hunt may lose his job, but is that enough? Cameron using him as human shield. If its really so bad then something bigger needs to happen, Cameron needs to carry the can more.

    I also don’t accept Cameron’s line that “Yes Hunt was biased in favoour, but everyone is biased, Cable was biased against.” In terms of monopolies (which is the issue) its ok for the government to be biased against, in fact thats their duty. Cable cannot be tarred as the equal opposite kind of wrongdoer to Hunt, and I don’t say that out of anti-murdoch spite, I am not really anti murdoch just anti the politicians that bend the knee to him, including in terms of monopoly power.

  • reaguns

    Oh dear I better deal with these one by one!

    Andrew Neil – I was a fan of his as the toughest interviewer in Britain, of politicians from either party, before I knew what his political and economic views were. Now that I know what they were, at least circa 96, I do not agree with his views, or rather his views are quite nuanced, but I agree with some and disagree with some, there is one major point where I disagree with him on economics.

    Peter Oborne – I’ve now somewhat gone off, now that I’ve realised he is basically a cameron supporter. In more naive days I believed that when journos criticised the government they meant it, now I’ve realised that unless the criticism is ultra-harsh this is code for support, ie when Alastair says all the press used to support cameron what he means is they did not vilify cameron.

    Janan Ganesh – barely know him, saw him on Sunday Politics where he is a fence sitter, but he made a comment the other day on Alastairs twitter page that I agreed with re Gove, Blair, education. Are you aware that he has just left The Economist to move to the Financial Times? So he is clearly not much of a right winger. I have read that FT is Alastair’s favourite paper and Murdoch’s least favourite.

    Michael Gove – I agree with him on press freedom. I don’t think this should be a labour vs tory, left vs right thing, but simply between those who believe in the same or a bit more press freedom that we have now, those who believe in a bit less, those who believe in significantly less. (Think most of us want a fairly free press, without monopoly power of any proprietor, with some regulation to stop certain practices, think the differences are fairly small.)

    On education I don’t agree with Blair or Gove, though any reform is welcome, our current arrangements could not possibly be any worse, and I agree with Ganesh that I cannot see the difference between Blair’s and Gove’s reforms.

    I would nationalise public and private schools, have selection based on discipline, and pay teachers based on exam results, so my views are somewhat distinct from Blair or Gove, and cannot possibly be characterised as left or right.

  • reaguns

    Great idea Ehtch, perhaps me and you could share the moderating duties? Obviously in my shifts I would delete, or doctor, everything from Michele, Janiete, MightyMark, ChrisLancashire etc and clean this site up a bit lol 🙂

    This would simply be a worked example for my case against press regulation 🙂

  • reaguns

    I just thought the questioning was very very soft on the big beasts of the inquiry, and I agree with you that the solutions will probably not be radical.

    The three main themes I can think of are:
    1. Phone hacking (and similar practices).
    2. Murdoch/Hunt/Michel/Smith takeover.
    3. New regulatory body for press.

    I don’t see how much they can do on some of the issues, or intend to do on others. I think its a typical contemporary political idea of “What are we going to do about this one Dave?”
    “Nothing, obviously.”
    “We can’t, the press and public will destroy us.”
    “Ah so something then?”
    “No there is nothing we can do and nothing we want to do?”
    “Good God man, what then?”
    “We have to do nothing but in a way that looks like we are doing something. A nothing disguised as a something.”
    “How the hell can we do that?”
    “Its called an inquiry.”

    Reminds me on, forget if it was 2dtv or Headcases animated shows but Osborne had just told a press conference that Cameron was happy to have a debate about race, immigration and multiculturalism, it went something like:
    Cameron: “Osborne why did you get me into a debate to prove we are not racist?”
    Osborne: “I thought we weren’t racist anymore?”
    Cameron: “We’re not.”
    Osborne: “Then whats the problem?”
    Cameron: “We don’t want to alienate our traditional voters, who are.”
    Osborne; “So whats the solution?”
    Hague: “To be racist-ish.”
    Cameron: “Exactly.”

    Or as David Mitchell put it, acting Cameron: “I’m not a racist, but if you are, you can still vote for me.”

  • reaguns

    Very interesting in both cases! Your dad sounds like the sort of person I’d like to follow on Twitter, lot of wisdom in that generation, very impressed at 2000 followers!

  • Ehtch

    3:55 in of here, jezuz wept, incredible overtaking,

  • Ehtch

    Where do I find these? No idea, I really don’t know myself. But I have more, just do not encourage me.

  • Ehtch

    delete or doctor? you fascist!  : )

    I would allow everything, all words from the slang dictionary, for belly roaring reasons. Well, I would laugh, at least!

  • Ehtch

    yep, I am sure it is, watched all the vids of the journey, sounds like him, madman same on push bike, same age, I am sure it is the man, on an outing from Lerpwl area, by getting part there by train.

    But I might be wrong, I am just guessing, could be one of his mates.

  • Ehtch

    gwallt wyllt, as us welsh would say, wild hair, brilliant online performance by that young lady.Oh yes!

  • Anonymous

    Only thing is, and I have no idea if this fits Alastair’s objectives of if he’s not bothered, that sites where the posts appear immediately tend to get a lot more traffic, as people enjoy the back and forth discussions.

  • Ehtch

    I could translate that brass plaque at Carter Bar if you want, it is in brythonic, hen wlad o’r gogledd, before we were cut by the Battle of Chester, 615.

  • Ehtch

    Down hill into the Towy Valley from Maesybont, with 180 degree turn right down hill, knife edge, taken knees scraping tarmac, it seemed, after downhill made blur eyes, hardly seeing corners, when going mant like a madman, one in three, life I let in other hands.

  • Ehtch

    she is from Canada, I have found, but obviously scottish extraction, got to be with that beautiful mad hair.

  • Ehtch

    Always tended when young to go cycling on my own, because if there was four or five of us, usually one fell back, and then disappeared into the scenery trying to keep up with us, unable to read downhill corners. And it was a bugger to cycle back up hill to find them, wheels buckled in a middle of a field. Was a big downer.

    Though even on my own I ended up doing same, getting myself out of some hedge trash, then lying down at side of road with my crippled bike, for someone to give me a lift to the nearest distant phone box with scraped knees, in those days of pre-mobile phone.

  • Ehtch

    And when getting down to the bottom to a bit of a valley steep, big or small, watch out for the midges and gnats getting into your eyes in August, hanging around those rivers and streams late summer, it is a bugger – wear you flash specs whatever you do, which didn’t exist when young when I was in the wars like a WWII grandad. If I did, the local lads then would have called me a right poncy big pouf!