Blair is back to give Ed a headache

Not to put too fine a point on things, Tony is pissed off.

Tony Blair is back. The Middle East is aflame, the coalition floundering. Whatever your view of Labour's polarising former premier, he hasn't lost his sense of political timing.

"Blair the 'back-seat driver' tells Ed Miliband to up his game", reported the Sunday Telegraph. "The former prime minister has told Mr Miliband he has risked cheapening his role by intervening too often on too many relatively trivial issues."

Miliband was no doubt delighted with the advice. As Nick Clegg grapples the Monster Raving Loony Party for political survival – and David Cameron strides on to the international stage with all the gravitas and judgement of Dr Strangelove – Labour's current leader needs his predecessor popping up like he needs a hole in the head.

Attempts to brush off Sunday's briefing as part of a "regular" series of conversations between the two men have fooled no one. Blair is, not to put too fine a point on things, pissed off. He's angry at Miliband's apparent junking of New Labour. He's even angrier at attempts to tarnish his legacy with what he sees as misrepresentation of his efforts to bring Muammar al-Gaddafi into the international mainstream.

And he's most angry at what he regards as an effort to use the "Arab spring" as a further stick to beat him, his Iraq policy and his broader policy of progressive interventionism.

Ed Miliband's team believe this anger is now being channelled into a co-ordinated Blairite fightback. Jack Straw, Peter Mandelson, David Miliband and Jim Murphy have all made recent high-profile interventions defending Blair and his foreign affairs record and philosophy. "We know what's going on," said one Miliband supporter. "We're not stupid."

Claims in the Telegraph article that Blair was responsible for recent improvements in Milband's performance and standing have been met with bewilderment. "It would be ludicrous to pretend this is all down to Tony – the unpopularity of the government's spending cuts obviously plays a major role – but Ed is always happy to listen to his advice," said a leadership source.

Those close to the Blairite camp see things somewhat differently. According to supporters of the former leader, Ed Miliband is becoming increasingly nervous at his failure to build a proper support base within the party. "Last time Ed spoke to Tony he wanted his help and advice in shoring up his position," one said. "It's taking much longer to bring people round than Ed anticipated."

There are also frustrations among a number of Blairite supporters with what they see as Miliband's failure to build on his recent tactical success. "The coalition keeps screwing up, and we keep hitting them. But we're not building an alternative case for why people should back Labour. Our only argument is 'at least we're not the Tories or the Lib Dems'."

Yet differing emphases over the response to the tumultuous events in the Middle East are creating the most significant tensions. Miliband's team fervently believes there is no appetite among the voters for further international adventurism. "Even if we wanted to get involved in Libya, the public won't wear it," said one source.

This sits in stark contrast to the interventionist instincts of some members of his own shadow cabinet. At a speech to the Royal United Services Institute in London on Thursday, Jim Murphy issued a veritable call to arms. "Britain can and should play an important part in shaping world events and trends, with our armed forces its heart," he urged.

That Britain should have responsibilities beyond her borders, he said, was "not, as some would have it, ideological, but, as we have seen over the last few days, a necessary response to the world in which we live. This is a challenge for the Labour Party. Opposition is about proving your preparedness to engage with the issues you would have to in government if it is to be responsible and ultimately electorally credible."

Compare that to an article Miliband wrote for the Observer four days earlier and the difference in emphasis is striking. He wrote:

The neocons were wrong to think we could impose democracy at the point of a gun. In this new era, soft power will often be a better way to achieve hard results. That is why support for civil society, the promotion of national assets such as the British Council and the BBC World Service, is so important. Our template should be the EU's response to the democratic revolutions of 1989 which helped make change in eastern Europe irreversible, with economic aid, technical assistance and institution-building.

The crisis in the Middle East has forced Miliband to sit down at the chessboard of foreign policy rather earlier in his leadership than he would have liked. Because of that, he has yet to formulate a settled policy agenda.

But he does have one simple rule: avoid getting into the mess Blair got himself into.

It's not a foreign affairs credo the former leader and his supporters are likely to warm to.

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As the Johnny Depp domestic abuse claims reveal, we are too quick to make excuses for men we admire

The backlash received by Amber Heard for claiming she suffered abuse by her estranged husband is yet another reminder that men are always given the benefit of the doubt over the women they are said to have hurt.

Maybe he didn’t do it. Maybe that man you care about didn’t do that awful thing to the woman you don’t care about very much. Maybe this time, of all the times, is Gone Girl in real life and that man you like – the sports star one, or the actor one, or the musician one, I’m not going to specify – really is the victim of a vicious feminine plot to destroy him. After all, you’d know the real thing if you saw it, wouldn’t you? You’re no rape apologist. You’d never harbour liking or admiration for a man who was abusive or violent to women. We all know that this is at the core of your moral thinking, because you’ve been extremely careful to say so, explicitly, before declaring that this time – this one time – is different.

Well, maybe he didn’t do it. We know that 1.4m women in England and Wales experience domestic violence. We know that one in five women has been the victim of a sexual offence since she turned 16. We know that the volume of violence against women is under-represented in statistics. None of that means that this one man – sports star, actor, musician – did what he has been accused of. Perhaps you have excellent and compelling reasons to believe in his innocence. But, just so we’re completely clear: the fact that you like him is not an excellent and compelling reason to believe in his innocence.

I will let you in on a secret now. A sensational true fact about abusive men. Here goes: pretty much every man who has ever harmed a woman has been liked by someone. Even the ones who aren’t famous have someone to have a pint with. Extraordinary I know, but the ability to be popular with other men – or with other women – has never stood in pristine opposition to the ability to go home and shove your girlfriend against a wall, taking care to focus only on the parts of her body that will stay clothed and covered. Or the ability to tyrannise your girlfriend by jealously monitoring to whom she speaks and what she eats. Or the ability to take a woman to a hotel room and neither know nor care if she’s saying yes or no, or is even capable of saying yes or no.

All the men I’ve known who’ve harmed women have had friends. Sometimes, I’ve been their friend: because one of the strategies of abusers is to isolate the women they victimise, it’s actually easier to be friends with an abuser than with his victim. Unpleasant, I know, but true.

And even when we know what men have done, we don’t like to talk about it. It seems crass somehow to say “that man hurts women”, when he is surely a fascinating and admirable character in so many other ways. William Burroughs shot his wife in the head and Leo Tolstoy raped his wife repeatedly and Roman Polanski sodomised a drugged 13-year-old, but weren’t they geniuses, and wouldn’t it be a shame to let these sad lapses overshadow the genius?

And then, wouldn’t it be an injustice to restrict such generosity to brilliance and condemn the ordinary man? So that guy you work with gets the benefit of the doubt besides.

Because it’s not really about the fact that they’re talented or charming or successful. It’s about the fact that they’re men. There is a quiet conspiracy of power compelling us to preserve every crevice of doubt where a man’s reputation can hold on. It’s true that women are not believed when they come forward with allegations, but even the disbelief has an insultingly shallow quality – if her story becomes impossible to deny then the criteria for her dismissal can be easily changed, and the charge of “liar” replaced with one of “slut” or “gold digger” or “asking for it”. The reason women’s words count for so little is that women are counted for so little.

Hating women is a bonding ritual for men. The locker room chat about who they would and wouldn’t do. The communal rite of shared pornography. The trips to strip clubs, where men perform their pleasure in having women submit. The stags in brothels urging each other to feats of penetration.

Being liked is not just compatible with misogyny: misogyny can be the social code that cements the liking. Patriarchy would have fallen apart a long, long time ago otherwise. So maybe this time, this sports star or actor or musician didn’t do it. It’s possible. And maybe this time, like so many other times, she’s telling the truth. Maybe her life matters at least as much as his career and reputation. That is possible too.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.