Blair chose not to tackle 'unhealthy' power of UK press
FORMER BRITISH prime minister Tony Blair has accepted that he made a “strategic decision” not to tackle the “unhealthy” power of the British press when he took office in 1997.
During evidence to the Leveson inquiry, Mr Blair said a close relationship between senior politicians and the media was inevitable, necessary and appropriate and should not to be frowned upon if handled properly by all sides.
However, in Britain it had become unhealthy because the relationship between the two, which should be marked by a degree of tension, had become one where politicians “feel this pretty intense power and the need to try and deal with that”, he said.
“The consequence of the above is that any politician who falls out with a section of that media, or in respect of whom they turn hostile, has a serious and potentially politically life-threatening problem,” he said.
“And I’m just being open about that and open about the fact, frankly, that I decided, as a political leader – and this was a strategic decision – that I was going to manage that and not confront it. We can get on to whether that was right or wrong.”
If he had, his plans to reform British society would have been put on hold. “I would have been engaged in a titanic battle with immensely powerful media interests who would not have hesitated to go after me and my government with everything at their disposal,” Mr Blair said.
“I do not minimise the importance of this at all. It is an essential debate for our democracy.
“But, for government, our priority had to be around the economy, schools, health, crime, security and foreign policy. For government to lead this debate is inherently difficult and fraught.”
British politicians must stay united when faced with the fruits of the Leveson inquiry, he said, because it will be very difficult for prime minister David Cameron to act if he believes that he will face disproportionate censure from the press.
During an intervention, Mr Justice Brian Leveson said: “But Mr Cameron may say it’s rather easy for you or the other party to say ‘Now is the time for the prime minister to grasp the nettle’. I’ve become rather depressed as I’ve listened to you. Do you think it’s different now?”
Replying, Mr Blair insisted that an opportunity to act did now exist.
“This is what sometimes happens in life, never mind politics, is that something people have known needs to be sorted out, suddenly the circumstances become such that people say: ‘Right, it’s got to be sorted out’.”