International ’love’ for Blair spells domestic trouble

This column is the first to be written for three months without a criminal damage charge hanging over me. It was withdrawn on Monday.

This column is the first to be written for three months without a

criminal damage charge hanging over me. It was withdrawn on Monday.



Instead, I was bound over to keep the peace which shouldn’t be very

onerous since I have done so for nearly 67 years. In that time, I have

seldom known a more educative period about how the judicial system

works. This should greatly inform my journalism. But, for the moment,

it’s not what I have learned recently but an old truth that moves

me.



I found it in the Daily Mirror’s five headlines of 6 March, one on top

of the other, telling us ’Tony Blair is a genius’ in five languages -

all approved, it said, by his press secretary, Alastair Campbell. The

Mirror claimed that No 10 had taken the ’extraordinary step of issuing a

59-page ’love’ dossier containing glowing (Continental) reviews of Blair

in Italy earlier this week’. Apparently he did so because he felt the

Prime Minister’s meeting with other left-inclined heads of Government in

Milan had received short shrift from the UK media.



’The official line from No 10’, said the normally Labour-lovin’ but now

sarcastic Mirror, ’was that Tony Blair is a man of vision who stands

astride all Europe like a golden Colossus’. Let us leave aside who paid

for this promotional exercise - the taxpayer or, as I hope, the Labour

Party - and concentrate on the distressing implications. One of the

warning signs in all Governments is when the boss is felt to be more

popular abroad than at home.



Margaret Thatcher polarised opinion in the UK but over large swathes of

the world she was adored - and still is. ’Madam Tatcha’, they used to

cry, dying for her to shake their hands. Similarly, Mikhail Gorbachev

was deposed even though abroad he was felt to be a good thing and,

again, still is on the whole. International enthusiasm for your leader

is all very well and may even be diplomatically useful. But what matters

is their performance at home because that fuels both enduring domestic

and international fascination. And what is so puzzling about Mr

Campbell’s PR exercise is that he is panicking although Mr Blair is

still out of sight in the polls, even if the Tories’ fortunes are

rising.



All this smacks of unnecessary desperation, not to say paranoia. It is a

poor outlook for when the national media really gets nasty. Perhaps that

is why No 10 is waking up to the potential of the regional media.



It seems to think that it might get a better press out of provincial

editors than the London-based variety. It may well be right - until it

becomes fashionably commercial to tear the Government apart. But if its

disillusionment with ’Fleet Street’ at last provides a comprehensive

GICS service to the regions through the COI, some long overdue progress

will have been made.



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