Magazine article The Spectator

The Post-War Reconstruction of Blair Is a Bewildering Exercise in Truth Creation

Magazine article The Spectator

The Post-War Reconstruction of Blair Is a Bewildering Exercise in Truth Creation

Article excerpt

The elaborate construction of the story of Tony Blair as lonely war leader, noted here last week, has continued to preoccupy Downing Street strategists as well as the political class more broadly. This ambitious enterprise, launched at an important moment for the government, urgently demands to become the subject of a serious academic treatise. One can only stand back and marvel at the energy, ingenuity and sheer volume of tender loving care that has helped engender the fantastic rodomontade of truth, falsehood, reality and fantasy that now encompasses the British Prime Minister, threatening to turn him into a barely intelligible and, in most respects, fictitious creature.

The traditional skills of the lobby correspondent are hopelessly inadequate even to start on an explanation of politics in the age of Blair. Decent shorthand skills and a plausible manner were the two traditional qualifications to make it as a political hack, though a striking number of lobby correspondents flourished without even those rudimentary advantages. But modern political journalists simply lack the complex skills to explain the Blair phenomenon as it has manifested itself since the end of the recent war. In some cases reporters have become part of the problem itself and are themselves in need of being explained or deconstructed. Professional outside help is needed.

Contemporary literary theory, obsessed as it is with the use of artifice, the equivalence between perception and truth, and the demystification of texts and images, is one essential tool. So, too, is a specialised understanding of mass advertising techniques and a historical understanding of the uses of political propaganda by totalitarian regimes. The forensic skills of a good investigative reporter, now sadly lacking in political reporting, would also come in handy.

New Labour, it has become startlingly evident, is above all a postmodern phenomenon. Seven years ago the project's founding genius Peter Mandelson observed, in a moment of beautiful clarity, that his job was to create the truth, a phrase which would have brought a thrill of recognition to Jacques Derrida, the celebrated founding father of European postmodernism. Although Mandelson (whose assertion, to be found in Wednesday's Daily Mirror, that 'I wouldn't lie to journalists', has been greeted with sheer delight throughout the Westminster village) is by no means the central figure he once was, his New Labour successors have remained faithful to his insights.

This is why the analogy with the Falklands war that I attempted to make last week was not in every respect adequate to explain the situation that prevails today. Reporting of the Falklands war was mainly a straightforward business. The technology of media manipulation, though not unrecognised, was in its infancy. The facts, for the most part, spoke for themselves. Where the government lied, as over the Belgrano sinking, those lies were readily detectable, or at any rate discoverable through old-fashioned, empirical techniques.

In the aftermath of the Falklands, Mrs Thatcher never sought to emphasise - as Tony Blair has repeatedly done in the last ten days - the element of personal danger. She concentrated on the difficulties faced by the troops. …

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