Magazine article The Spectator

Tony Blair and Osama Bin Laden May Have Changed the Guardian's Line on Northern Ireland

Magazine article The Spectator

Tony Blair and Osama Bin Laden May Have Changed the Guardian's Line on Northern Ireland

Article excerpt


From time to time Tony Blair is in the habit of paying a visit to the Guardian, where he is welcomed by Alan Rusbridger, the paper's editor, and senior colleagues. Such occasions are normally marked by a spirited but friendly exchange of views.

On Monday 10 September Mr Blair popped along to the Guardian's offices in Farringdon Road with his press secretary, Alastair Campbell. Mr Rusbridger was there, in the company of his senior writers, though one notable absentee was the columnist Jonathan Freedland. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss private-public partnerships, but Mr Blair also criticised the paper's editorial line on Northern Ireland, which he found unhelpful. He was unhappy about the Guardian's reluctance to take seriously the recent arrest of three IRA suspects in Colombia.

It was perhaps unfortunate that Mr Freedland could not be present since in the many leaders and columns he has written about Northern Ireland he has bent over backwards to see the point of view of Sinn Fein and the IRA. Or was it a mercy? For on 20 September the Guardian published a long and thoughtful leader about Northern Ireland whose tone was strikingly different from other recent offerings, some of which I mentioned in my column of 8 September. The paper, I then remarked, had earlier opined that `the hullabaloo over the arrest of three suspected IRA men in Colombia ... is not a major issue'.

In its leader of 20 September this line was abandoned. The paper thought that the outrages in New York and Washington `will or should - have made Americans ask themselves some hard questions about support for Irish terrorism. Washington was sufficiently alarmed when three Irishmen suspected of working with the Colombian Farc guerrillas were arrested in August to send the state department envoy Richard Haass on his first Irish visit just before last week's atrocities. Now the administration is likely to be even more uncompromising towards both the Provisional and the Real IRA. Washington should therefore immediately outlaw all Irish terrorist fund-raising groups.' The leader went on to make some sensible proposals for achieving a settlement in Northern Ireland.

One swallow does not make a summer, and it may be that tomorrow will bring another pro-Sinn Fein editorial. But I am keeping my fingers crossed. My suggestion is not that Mr Rusbridger and his colleagues had been cowed by Mr Blair's criticisms. Say what you like about the Guardian, but it does not generally aspire to being in the lap of New Labour. No, my belief is that Mr Rusbridger, who as I have said is essentially a judicious and moderate man, was genuinely impressed by Mr Blair's arguments.

Perhaps the atrocities in America have also made him think a little more deeply about terrorism. Why, in the end, should such a person want to give succour to Sinn Fein and the IRA? Let us hope that the influence of Mr Freedland - by all accounts clever and charming, but loopy when it comes to Northern Ireland - is waning, and that Mr Rusbridger is going to apply some of his own good sense to the subject.

In an article in the Independent the writer Joan Smith seems to imply that the so-called right-wing press is uniformly in favour of waging war. …

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