Political sketch: Tony virtuoso

The former PM effortlessly charmed Leveson and Robert Jay.

It wasn't the Hague, it wasn't even the Old Bailey - but it was a court and it had a dock and in it a man with his hand on a bible prepared to admit he was Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.

He turned up looking suitably smart and tanned as befits an international jet-setter and former Prime Minister taking time off from his world-peace day job.

And so it was totally in keeping when an uninvited accuser equally, if more casually well-dressed, popped in to accuse him of war crimes in the sort of modulated voice that suited the occasion.

The sudden appearance of David Lawley-Wakelin caused mild surprise in the court not least to Lord Leveson alongside whose seat the aforementioned propped himself to deliver is charge.

The accused seemed singularly unimpressed and even his burly bodyguards strolled slowly to the positions of protection as Mr D L-W grappled with court staff before leaving in a prone position from whence he had come.

Lord Leveson then announced an immediate inquiry which means two for the price of one in the same room.

Meanwhile back at the other inquiry, chief interrogator Robert Jay had been so unimpressed with the interruption that his chin had not even left the hand on which it leans for much of the day's proceedings.

Mr Lawley-Wakelin had charged TB with having his hand in the till at J P Morgan in America and suggested that had something to do with the invasion of Iraq.

Mr Blair flatly denied the charges and pointed out that his accuser's outburst would hijack news of his appearance thereby proving the impossibility of the press - as evidenced by this story .

And so it was back to the fray or rather the seminar as former barrister Blair, clearly content to be back in familiar surroundings, swapped polite questions and answers with Jay and the judge.

Gone was the scourge of the Murdochs and the Grand Inquisitor of Coulson and Brooks, and in his place a new user-friendly Jay happy to let Tony use ten words where one would have sufficed.

Looking on were the seried ranks of the "feral beasts" of the press so described by the former PM clearly standing by hoping to deliver further blows to the man who provided them with so many stories over their careers.

Tony began by admitting that from day one of his leadership he decided taking on the press would be a waste of his time and so he decided to "manage it".

He did decide to try to win over Rupert Murdoch's newspapers but did not become really pally with the the big man himself until after he packed in as PM - and by then he had discovered Rupert was not an identikit right-winger - although he did not reveal which parts were missing from the box.

It was only then that he decided to get the white suit and be godfather to Murdoch minor minor.

He flatly denied using the papers to rubbish anyone during his time in politics, particularly Gordon, despite claims to the opposite. He also did not approve of bullying and did not believe that Peter Mandelson or Alistair Campbell ever did it (check tomorrow's newspapers!)

It was a vintage Blair performance as befits the man who told John Humphries he was a "straight sort of guy" over Bernie Ecclestone's £1m donation.

The best bit came when he confirmed without embarrassment his conversation years ago with Chris Mullin that his absolute priority was to win: "I know it sounds unprincipled but I believe it is my role in life," he told him.

Having no doubt already got each other's phone numbers, and without a glove landed on him, Tony then left promising to write in with his thoughts on the future of the press.

David Cameron is due his turn on 14 June. Number 10 said he had been too busy to watch Tony. If I were him, I'd get the DVD.
 

Protestor David Lawley-Wakelin. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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