Larry King says Bye-Bye Blair

Larry King, an American journalist based in London, and once a regular contributor to this column, was able (between deadlines) to jot down a few thoughts about Blair on the occasion of his departure from the pinnacle of British politics:

My only observation is that Tony Blair will probably be treated better by history than he's being treated now in the British media, because it could hardly treat him worse. The media have always reviled Blair, sometimes because he betrayed the cause of true socialism, sometimes because he was dragging Britain into a Marxist hell -- the British media being as untroubled by logical inconsistency as they are by a shortage of facts, lack of knowledge, or deficiencies in spelling, punctuation, and grammar -- but mostly because he was better at their game than they were.
More than anyone besides Bill Clinton, who was probably the best natural politician of our time, Blair understood he couldn't control the tone of public discourse, but that didn't matter so long as he controlled the topic. The debate might get raucous, but it was always a debate about his agenda. The media could see what he was doing but couldn't figure out how to keep him from doing it, and it drove them nuts, much as Clinton in his `Slick Willie' moments drove American reporters nuts.

(Incidentally, have you noticed how it's become an article of faith among Clinton's detractors that he enjoyed an adoring and servile press? He probably didn't inspire the same kind of visceral loathing among the media as George Bush does now. But he still got impeached, after an investigation of the Whitewater real estate deal somehow morphed into an expose of his fling with an airheaded intern. And Whitewater got investigated only after dogged, fearless, and screamingly pointless digging by that flagship of the left-leaning mainstream media, the New York Times. Somehow, I doubt Clinton feels he had a free ride in the newspapers.)

Ironically enough, the media snarling and yapping only turned into a full-throated howl for his blood when Blair abandoned spin and message-control and took a firm stand: He went to war in Iraq. When the war began, he had the support of two or three members of his own cabinet, a couple of contrarian columnists who would come out in favour of nausea if most of the press endorsed Pepto Bismol, and me. All the rest of us have since come to the conclusion that perhaps the war in Iraq was not a foreign-policy initiative ranking with the Marshall Plan, and I suspect Blair concluded as much himself some time ago. But in his view, a matter of principle was involved: you do not desert an ally when he needs you the most.

(For what it's worth, I remain in favour of a war in Iraq, just not the war we got. I had a carefully-thought-out, geopolitically-based rationale for invading Iraq. My rationale extended to clearly defined ideas about how to conduct the military campaign and the consequent occupation, what the ultimate goals were, and how they might be reached. Apparently, I gave the matter one whole hell of a lot more thought than the entire Bush administration.)

You may disagree with the principle Blair stood up for, but I don't see how you can argue it's not a principle. The British press tried, anyway, claiming Blair was simply Bush's poodle -- a favourite phrase, bewilderingly popular, although it made no sense -- and that he was ignoring the will of the British people. Considering the hacks had spent Blair's first six years in office condemning him for relying on focus groups and opinion polls for his policies -- in other words, paying attention to nothing but the will of the people, or at least their whims -- that seemed a little rich to me, but as I said, logical consistency has never figured highly in the British media's scale of values.


Larry King is an American-born expatriate I know who lives in London. He is not the talk show host, nor is he the author of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. From time to time, he contributes a Letter From Europe to my column. Below, I list the letters that have appeared so far.

Larry King's Letter from Europe: Very Little Happens in August (Sep. 6, 1999)

Larry King's Letter from Europe (Feb. 2, 2000)

Larry King Takes Over The Column: Spring in London (April 10, 2000)

Of Twits And Things (July 24, 2000)

Larry King on Eurostar (March 19, 2001)

Joe Brancatelli and Larry King on Rail Travel (March 26, 2001)

Larry King on Foot and Mouth and British Tourism (April 2, 2001)

Larry King on 9/11 (Oct. 15, 2001)

Larry King on Lords and Dukes And Journalists (Feb. 11, 2002)

Larry King on Presidential Greatness (March 4, 2002)

Larry King on British Broadcasting (March 11, 2002)

Larry King on England, the U.S. and the Middle East (April 29, 2002)

Larry King on the case FOR the war with Iraq (March 24, 2003)

Larry King Deconstructs A Blunkett Remark (August 19, 2004)

Larry King On The British Election (May 9, 2005)

Larry King On 7/8 Bombing (July 10, 2005)

Larry King: Bye Bye Blair (May 28, 2007)

Larry King: Thoughts On The State of Journalism and Teaching (January 18, 2008)

Larry King Letter from London: American Ex-Pats Vote (May 19, 2008)

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