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 It was withdrawn on Monday.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
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
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.