Friday, 21 February 2014

Tony Blair: place in history, place in soap opera

Few Prime Ministers can have been as preoccupied with their place in history as Tony Blair. 

Sadly, he’s rather torn that one. He still thinks that history will exonerate him, but then I suppose we all need our comforting illusions just to get through life. My view? His name will be as indissolubly linked to catastrophe in Iraq as Anthony Eden’s is with debacle in Suez.

Still, if an honourable place in history is rather beyond him these days, at least he can aspire to a significant supporting role in soap opera.

Let’s set the scene. For over a decade and a half, Blair’s been a close friend of Rupert Murdoch, the Berlusconi of the English-speaking world. People in Murdoch’s circle like to put it about that he more or less put Blair into office, and the two of them pretty well ran Britain together for the best part of a decade. Sadly, rather a lot of us think that picture wasn’t terribly far from the truth.

Even after he left office, Tony remained close to Rupe. Tony even became godfather to Grace, one of Murdoch’s daughters by his then wife, Wendi Deng. The baptism took place in the river Jordan, as though Murdoch (or possibly Blair) was a kind of latter-day John the Baptist and Grace, or possibly her sister Chloe, baptised at the same time, was the Messiah returned in female form.

Good taste of the kind we’re well used to from Murdoch
’s papers.

Within his media empire, Murdoch was in the meanwhile promoting the career of one of his finest editors, Rebekah Brooks, who eventually became Chief Executive of his News International corporation.

When David Cameron became Prime Minister, he decided to appoint a former BBC journalist, Guto Harri, as his Communications Chief at Downing Street. When Brooks learned that this was about to happen, she rang Cameron and told him that he should do no such thing, but appoint Andy Coulson instead. Coulson had been her successor as editor of the News of the World.

Cameron in those days thought that ‘lol’ meant ‘lots of love’ and used to text Brooks with ‘lol’ as his sign off. All that love – he could hardly deny her wish to see Coulson in the Downing Street role, and he was duly appointed.

Sadly, the News of the World, the paper that loved to break scandals about other people was about to face its own: the accusation that it had been hacking the phones of celebrities and victims of crime to feed its ravenous craving for sensational, or salacious, news. The paper eventually closed and both Brooks and Coulson were arrested, Coulson having to resign from the post Brooks had arranged for him to be given.

And Blair? Well, just before Brooks was arrested he apparently gave her advice to stand firm and tough things out. So she had the incumbent Prime Minister and an illustrious former one as close and personal friends. She must have taken comfort from such protection.

Today, though, she’s had to take the stand in her own trial, and what emerged? That she had a ‘car crash’ of a private life, as her marriage to actor Ross Kemp fell apart. Among other things, this involved ‘periods of intimacy’ with the very Andy Coulson she’d done so much to promote. Not an affair, you understand – just intimacy. 

Rebekah and Andy
Good friends, good colleagues and periods of intimacy
See what I mean about soap opera? The femme fatale with two powerful men at her beck and call, and working for a third, arguably more powerful than either of the others. She’s in a failing marriage with a celebrity. She seeks consolation with a subordinate whose success she promotes. It’s the first season or two of – what shall we call it? Perhaps We Make the News.

But, I hear you cry, what about Blair in all this? Surely he has only a walk-on part, not a major supporting role as you claim.

Not so. For as in all successful soap operas, season 2 has seen new plot lines added. Now it seems that Murdoch and Blair are themselves involved in what looks, on the surface, like another love triangle. It’s around that Wendi Deng, mother of Tony’s goddaughter Grace.

Bright and feisty, she intervened in defence of her husband when he was attacked with a cream pie within the hallowed precincts of the Palace of Westminster. She was there even before the security guards whose job it was to ensure – well security. Tough lady.

It seems she has a softer side too.

‘Oh shit, oh shit, whatever why Im so missing Tony … he has such a good, body and really, really good legs …’ she wrote on one occasion, and its hard to deny the sentiment even if one might question the English. 

Wendi, Rupe and Tony. The love triangle for season 3?
Did they have an affair, or even ‘periods of intimacy’? Who knows. It seems that Murdoch thinks so, and to justify his divorce, latched onto the times Blair and Deng spent alone together in his house – his house, just imagine – while Rupe was away. It seems Tony can’t get Rupe to take his calls any more and has given up trying.

Well, there’s plenty of smoke around, and who knows what fire is smouldering away underneath it? Sounds like a great theme to explore in season 3 of We Make The News.

You might say it’s a bit grubby, but then so was the whole Iraq affair. And at least the soap opera’s unlikely to leave some hundreds of thousands of civilian dead in a devastated nation.

Unlike the history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A brilliant exposition. Contains all the ingredients of a Whitehall farce,