Was Tony Blair “good or bad”?

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9th May 2012

Tony Blair elected PM 15 years ago: was he good or bad?

This was a very unscientific BBC “poll” (see here) but worth watching. In the video of just over two minutes passers-by were asked to place a ball in good/bad containers. Result? 50/50 – more or less.

Now, does that surprise you? It doesn’t surprise me. Not one bit.

What is noteworthy is that at least two of the three people who said he was “bad” disapproved for the wrong reasons. Wrong because they are reasons outwith the actual facts (not just because I think they were wrong.)

The first two people who spoke said they thought Tony Blair was good, “because he keeps to his policies and does it well … very firm in what he says and no one can change his opinions.” Though their companion shook her head disapprovingly.

The next to comment, a woman, said, “he started off as a very truthful man and somehow became corrupted”. [OK, that is her opinion. Though I can’t imagine where she got it from!]

Next, a man said, “he ran away from the country, didn’t want to be an MP any more, did he?” [Factually incorrect. He was forced out by Gordon Brown, Tom Watson, Chris Bryant and the rest of the treacherous curry plotters.]

A woman and her daughter decided to put one ball in good and one in bad.

At 1:19 a man, identified by tweeps as Sir Peter Bottomley (Tory MP) said “like all the rest of us a bit good, a bit bad.”

Two men in yellow work jackets both said – “fantastic” (but I don’t think they stopped to put balls in the  box.)

A young woman at 1:22 said, “I personally think that he should stand accountable for what he made our country do without our consent. Bad”. [Factually incorrect. He asked for a vote in Parliament, though he did NOT need to, and won it. That’s “our consent”, young lady.]

That wrong-headed but widely believed comment was balanced by the next speaker, a man at 1:32 who said – “Afghanistan … what he should have done.” Asked by Susana Mendonça – “what about Iraq?” he replied,  “Iraq? Yeah” The BBC reporter then tried again on that particular BBC hang-up – “You think he was right to go to Iraq?” “Yeah”, he replied, “I do, yeah.”

At 1:42, Sir Peter Bottomley put in another appearance and was asked as he picked up two balls – “Hedging  your bets?” He replied,  “No, no it’s just being fair”

The broadcasting journalist Susana Mendonça sums up with, “It’s pretty much even stevens although the bad seems to be just about winning. Clearly the man who won three elections in a row and divided the nation back then is still dividing the nation now.”

Yes, controversial and thus dividing. But at around 50% that is a far better score than many would have us believe he could achieve today.

Come on back, Tony. The country awaits.

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Watch BBC video here

Tony Blair walked into Downing Street 15 years ago this week and went on to become the most successful prime minister in Labour history.

But he was a controversial figure and he still divides opinion. Susana Mendonça tested the view on the streets of Westminster with the Daily Politics mood box to ask: Tony Blair – good or bad?

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Jeremy Paxman in Wonderland. “BBC Trust” findings.

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16th March 2012

PAXMAN IN WONDERLAND (Continued) …
Below, in blue, is the full text of the letter from the complainant in response to the BBC Trust findings (p31) on the Paxman interview with Douglas Alexander on Newsnight, BBC2 on 21 February 2011, which formed the basis of my previous blog post.  As is shown, the  extra details of the findings are even more outrageous and nonsensical than those included in the Wonderland story.
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FROM THE COMPLAINANT TO THE BBC TRUST
The complaint is based on the fact that consideration of this case has not followed the basic rules of an appeal process i.e. that the decision should be related to the precise terms of the original complaint, that the objections to a finding should be properly considered and then the decision made on the basis of whether or not these objections are plausible and whether there was evidence to back up any case being made.
In this case the Committee’s decision is not related to my original complaint and your conclusions have been endorsed without addressing my precise objections to them.   No evidence has been provided to support the Committee’s conclusions whereas evidence to support my objections has been ignored. Finally, the reasoning behind the Committee’s decision is quite absurd.  All this can be seen from the following analysis of the Committee’s justification of their findings, which can be summarised as –
  1. it could not be concluded from the substance of Mr Paxman’s questions that they represented his personal views;
  2. most viewers would not have judged that Mr Paxman’s combatitive questioning on this topic went beyond what was expected of Mr Paxman in this respect;
  3. the Committee did not agree that the questions put to the daughter of the murdered Libyan dissident were leading questions;
  4. the style of the interview did not reveal in any way the presenter’s views;
  5. just because an interviewer may hold certain views does not mean that an interview is conducted in a partial manner;
  6. the key question was not the distinction between whether the presenter actually held personal views or gave the impression that he held personal views; it was whether the material  broadcast was impartial. The Committee then declare the evidence that I have provided to support my case to be irrelevant.
The obvious answers to these points, which I have repeatedly made in the correspondence, are
1)  It was not the substance of Mr Paxman’s questions which revealed his personal views or gave the impression that they were his views but the way in which they were put ;
2)  this is simply a matter of opinion, no evidence having been provided. Even if  such combatitive questioning was expected by the audience this does not override the need for Mr Paxman to abide by the guidelines I have referred to about interviewers not revealing their own biased views on a subject or giving the impression of such bias.
3)  this observation flies in the in the face of the actual questions put in this case –
“It was not just a matter of Mr Paxman’s softer tone with Ms Abuzeid but of the way questions were put to her to simply confirm the case that Mr Paxman was making. As I said in my submission to Ms O’Brien, “Mr Paxman then turns to the daughter of a murdered Libyan dissident and gently asks her some leading questions about what she thinks of the pictures of Blair and Gaddafi (as if she’s going to reply, great!) and whether she had any anxiety that the Blair relationship was reinforcing Gaddafi’s position in Libya (as if she’s going to answer ‘no’.)”
4)  this observation also flies in the face of the way the questions were put in this case –
“His lips curling with contempt, Paxman asked Alexander whether he was proud of the pictures of Blair embracing Gaddafi, emphasising the words “proud” and “embracing”.He then went on to refer to “the killing being done by someone who our former PM had clasped to his bosom and whose son referred to him as a close personal friend (with the words “bosom”, “close” “personal” “friend” being almost spitted out. This was followed by “So we have got a despot still in power, having been clasped to his bosom by our former PM (notice the repetition of the bosom clasping reference) and you still show no sign of apologising for this? (with a note of incredulity in his voice). Then in response to an answer from Alexander he almost screams at him “Stop passing the buck to the international community!”
Moreover, putting the observation in this way begs the question of whether Mr Paxman gave the impression that these were his own biased views even if they were not.  As I have already said, giving such an impression seems to go against the BBC guidelines on this matter and although I have provided a link to an ESC finding apparently agreeing with this interpretation of the guidelines the Committee have completely ignored this aspect of my appeal. 
5)  I was not arguing that the interview was lacking in impartiality just because Mr Paxman held certain views about the subject of the interview. My argument was that the interview was biased  because Mr Paxman allowed his attitude towards Tony Blair to be revealed (or gave the impression that this was his attitude) in the manner of his questioning.
6)  this is the most obtuse, convoluted and contentious part of the Committee’s justification of their finding.  First of all they have distorted my argument as explained in my answer to point 5 above (it was not a matter of the presenter just holding certain views etc but of the presenter revealing those views etc in the interview and thus affecting the impartiality of the interview). Second they seem to be saying that the interview was impartial just because they say it was impartial, dismissing the evidence I presented to the contrary as irrelevant. It was like a judge in  the Wonderland of Alice finding someone innocent on the basis that it was not part of his job to consider evidence presented by the prosecution.
THE EVIDENCE
As regards the question of the evidence itself in this case, the  Committee’s decision is even more like the logic of Wonderland  in that, as I have pointed out before, the Committee had come to their conclusion on the irrelevance of the evidence even though on a previous complaint I had made  (Newsnight, BBC TWO, 28 September 2009) the Committee had rejected my appeal on the basis that “the complainant had not presented it with any evidence to support his complaint that Jeremy Paxman was presenting his own opinions and as such the Committee was satisfied that in carrying out his role of interviewer Jeremy Paxman had been impartial and even-handed in his approach and style of questioning”.
Thus, as I went on to say, in the previous case the test of impartiality was whether evidence had been provided whereas the test in this case is simply whether the Committee considered the interview to be impartial regardless of the evidence provided. This seems to be a clear case of moving the goalposts in that evidence is crucial where I haven’t provided it but irrelevant where I have. Or in Wonderland terms. “When I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean…nothing more nor less”.
THE PRECISE NATURE OF THE COMPLAINT
Finally the Committee seems to have come to a view on this case based on the key question being whether the “material as broadcast” was impartial whereas my complaint was about the phrasing and manner of the questioning, which is a very different thing.
CONCLUSION
So on all the key elements of handling this appeal i.e. addressing the precise terms of my appeal,  properly addressing my objections to your conclusions, properly addressing the question of the evidence provided (and not provided) plus the need for the findings to stand up to logical analysis, the Committee have fallen far short of what should be expected. In that sense I consider their handling of the case to be grossly unfair and the explanation of their findings not clearly communicated.  To add insult to injury they have also rejected my request that the extracts from my letter setting out the precise nature of those parts of the Paxman interview that I objected to should be included in the published findings. I wanted these extracts included so that visitors to the site could determine whether the Committee’s views on the impartiality of the interview were justified.”
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RELATED
Earlier, 28th July 2011, complaint – HOW THE BBC TRUST BETRAYS OUR TRUST, Part 2  [and prior to that (Part 1, 28th June 2011) and after those (Part 3, 8th August 2011)]
John Rentoul on yet another complaint to said BBC re Paxman bias

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BBC’s (& Quentin Letts’) ‘let’s pretend’ obituary for Tony Blair

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2nd January 2012

Happy New Year to all! Let’s hope it’s better than the old one.

London's world-famous clock tower, commonly known as Big Ben, seems to explode in a blaze of fireworks. Guy Fawkes would have been proud.

The oddly timed news (rather leak – the broadcaster itself didn’t tell us) that the hallowed  BBC was doing interviews ready for Tony Blair’s eventual obituary  (yes he’ll have to go one day like the rest of us – no way out of that way out) raised a few eyebrows when it broke at The Sun.

Tony Blair at an event in London, beginning of December, 2011

For the record I saw Mr Blair in recent weeks and he didn’t look at all as though he was even approaching death’s door.  But questionably untimely as is this scour around to record snips from presumably the usual suspects  – in case they pop off before he does – it has some rhyme and reason. Quentin Letts’s reasons for his atrocious piece of work are far less excusable.

Let’s do Letts later, as it were.

The BBC MUST be prepared.  After all their broadcasting outfit is a near monopoly and bears a lot of responsibility for being right up there with the latest, so to speak. The BBC is the largest broadcaster in the world with the world’s largest broadcast news organisation and a reach in Britain of more than all the other British media outlets put together.

Aside : Despite this my request several weeks ago to the Leveson “Press” Inquiry as to whether or not broadcasters too are being looked into remains unanswered.

Since 73% get their news from TV, with the BBC supplying 70% of all TV news, the Beeb certainly has some responsibility; and some power.

It would never do if in say 20/30/40 years time when the time comes to remind us all about Tony Blair and the life and reasons for (successes & not to mention failings of the then late lamented) to find such as Tam Dalyell, Tony Benn, Clare Short and George Galloway had already popped their clogs.  Oh tragedy – true, utter, real tragedy! Not one of them to be found opining liberally on the Commons grassy bits .

The horror! Bereft indeed!

Dig out the archives, replay the video clips. Find SOMEthing … ANYthing to remind the waiting, wailing punters of… you know the rest.

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Just a little background aside or three on some likely interviewees. Come back to the below later if you prefer.

ORDER! ORDER!

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ALAS, POOR YORICK TONY! I KNEW HIM …

So the usual suspects and perhaps even a few sensible types have got their er… tributes in first.  In the can; on the record; ready for the big day when we can all find out how and why the most electorally successful Labour leader ever was such a … what’s the word …  oh yes, failure.

I DO realise that this writing up of early obituaries is common practice, just in case.  Since Mr Blair is just 58 it may be a decade or several premature.  I discount immediately perceived “threats” to him as suggested by someone here. The BBC may be at times illiberal with the verity but it is not a  killer setup regardless of Jeremy Paxman’s cross-media article (let’s pretend it’s about his fave pic) inadvertently I’m sure, rousing would-be assassin types who hang out at the rough corners of the Guardian of the TROOF.  As if, eh?

But nor do I imagine this BBC obituary will be a quick two-minute snip mourning a senior statesman’s demise.  Instead it will be a programme-length exhortation – or perhaps a series – as to what NOT to do with power. While of course explaining in no unbiased terms as to why exactly Mr Blair was such a ‘disappointment’ (to some.)

BBC ANTI-BLAIR BIAS

Why, I hear you ask, don’t I completely trust the BBC’s motives in recording, collecting, editing and collating ‘alas poor Tony! …’ wails from the affected…  er… effected?

It’s very simple.

I have watched over many years as the BBC’s anti-Blair/anti-Iraq war bias has shone through almost every news item: analysis pouring knowledgeably from the lips of assuredly informed Today broadcasters; echoed and chiming in a cacophony of  Newnights; muddling through middle-class mumblings at Any Questions masterclasses; chattering classily through quirky Question Times; not to mention Panoramically looking to let’s-put-things-right oh so liberally-leftily in that self-important overseeing seewetoldyou way.

All BBC gems undimmed in their omniscience due usually to the orchestrated absence of the airing of balancing countervailing arguments from any not quite liberal intelligentsia types among us.

‘I KNOW I KNEW HIM NOW. BUT WILL I KNOW HIM THEN?

Put aside that it is clear that despite often being accused by the political right of being too “left” the BBC and its commenters and broadcasters are, with a few honourable exceptions, against the Iraq war. Thus it follows anti-Blair.  Beseeching us for understanding, as though they had mistakenly cheerled for Hitler, they have the humility – nay – lofty self-flagellation and deserved meekness to make it clear they can’t apologise enough. Especially because he won’t.

Pumpkins.

Thing is, even if Blair is/was of “the left”, his having been a Labour PM actually makes it so much easier for them to put on their earnest lefty luvvie tones – ‘sorry we didn’t realise/he seemed so nice’.

Has the BBC considered there is an issue in recording opinions on a late lamented who isn’t yet late even if, by some, seriously lamented?  The man himself might outlive many of them. There may well be far more to be said about him than that he joined in on a war they did not like. On second thoughts – they clearly have considered that.

En passant – it’s been reported that a 24 year-old former drugs-dealing gang member has just been awarded an OBE in the News Years Honours List. For turning round his life in an acceptable way he has been rewarded.  How on earth does that compare to the work already being done by Tony Blair all over the world through his Faith Foundation, Climate Group, African Governance Initiative to name but some? Not that I think he’s looking for a gong, but where is Tony Blair’s award?  Where is his recognition for decades spent in public service?

And in decades to come will today’s OB units filming GG’s words REALLY do the man justice?

I conclude not.

There is one issue which is harder still to get one’s innocent head around.

How can such as Tam Dalyell (if indeed he is one with a starring role) talk today about a future deceased Mr Blair in tones which will have any pertinence when that sad day comes? After all it’s a different thing to talk today of someone yet warm than it may be on that cold distant morn. So how?

Only, might I suggest to Dalyell/Galloway clones, by being asked about matters they feel strongly about today: Iraq, in other words.  And who knows how the world and even today’s MPs will feel about Iraq in 20/30/40 years time?

So, yes I am suspicious about the filming of MPs re Tony Blair’s inevitable, eventual televised obituary.  Not because I think they expect him to die any time soon, but because I think they expect him NOT to.  They can’t dare allow him and the passing of time here and in Iraq to change perceptions. Not when such as Gorgeous George are still around to “balance” things by reminding us how evil was the man. (Not Saddam, silly, but Tony Blair the remover of that ‘indefatigability‘.)

Look – I’m fed up with this already. And I’ve hardly touched on Letts. Cant imagine how YOU feel!

I’ll write on Letts later, if he hasn’t by then been found dead in a “small shed” somewhere. Methane accruement in his particular case should take about ten minutes.

In which case, I suppose I’ll have to do an obituary.

What a stinker.

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Comment samples follow from the Ban Blair-Baiting petition

1. I completely agree with everything that has been said on this website. As Prime Minister, Tony Blair worked tirelessly and selflessly in the interests of the people, and continues to do so today. He is primarily a humanitarian, and doesn’t deserve any of the vitriol that has been levelled at him. He was a great Prime Minister, is a thoroughly decent man; and should in my opinion, be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his outstanding work. – David Miliband (New Labour’s heir) for the next PM!

2. Best politician in Britain by a long way.

3. Fully support the petition. The criticism of Mr Blair has gone way beyond anything acceptable and seems to be carried out mainly by those who are looking to wash their hands of any involvement in supporting the Iraq war at the time. It is very easy to be ‘wise after the event’ and to make assumptions about how much Mr Blair knew or did not know before the war. In these people’s eyes, the former PM is guilty whatever the evidence.

4. An excellent petition this for a very undervalued PM. A PM who is not only the best in my lifetime but my parents lifetime too!

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Tony Blair’s Desert Island Discs choices (download audio)

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28th December 2011

Tony Blair’s BBC Desert Island Discs, November 1996

Sue Lawley’s castaway this week is the Leader of the Opposition, the Right Honourable Tony Blair. He will be describing his beliefs, both political and religious, and revealing the man behind the sound bites.

[Taken from the original programme material for this archive edition of Desert Island Discs]

Rt Hon Tony Blair MP

Broadcast 24 November 1996

Official Leader of the Opposition (became Prime Minister in 1997), Politician – Labour

Find another castaway here

  • Desert Island Discs – Find every castaway from 1942 to the present day, plus over 500 programmes available to download.

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Recent comments:

I am staggered by all the hate directed towards our former Prime Minister. I believe that Tony Blair made the Iraq decision in good faith and is most certainly NOT a war criminal. If anyone should be tried at the Hague it should be those in the media for totally misrepresenting the information and facts. The media are to blame for fuelling this hatred as it is purely driven by them. (UK)

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The greatest and most successful leader the Labour Party has ever had with the courage to fight the Islamist terrorists who really would like to kill us all, and you never hear a good word about him. The herd of independent minds, commentators, activists etc who have never had to make a difficult decision in their lives drown out all debate with their inane chants of war crimes and blood on his hands. Defend him at every chance. I just wish more people would do it. (Glasgow, UK)
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Blair was the greatest Labour Prime Minister. It is a disgrace that the party has turned away from his legacy. Shame on Ed Miliband and his so-called ‘new generation’.