There were some Tories who reacted with glee when the news broke that Tony Blair advised Rebekah Brooks at the height of the phone-hacking scandal (a week after the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone was revealed). For them, anything that reminds voters of New Labour’s infatuation with the Murdoch empire is politically valuable. It makes it easier to spin the narrative that all politicians were too close to the media and that there was nothing exceptional about David Cameron’s ties. Labour, they hope, will also be damaged by the phone-hacking trial.
But this analysis ignores the fact that Labour is now led by a man who has unambiguously repudiated the Murdoch clan. When Ed Miliband called for Rebekah Brooks to resign and for the BSkyB deal to be abandoned, it was viewed as a huge political gamble. But it has turned out to be one of the shrewdest decisions of his leadership. By distancing himself from News International at a time when it was still politically risky to do, he ensured that he would be able to speak with moral authority on the subject of phone-hacking.
The Blair revelations are a reminder of how much the party has changed under his leadership. While Blair was telling Brooks to “tough up”, Miliband was calling for her resignation (the coincidence of these events is rightly being seen as an act of disloyalty to Labour). It is unthinkable that Miliband, who treats his party with far greater respect and courtesy than Blair, would ever devote such attention to forces so hostile to Labour (note that Blair’s pro bono advice followed the Sun’s “Labour’s lost it” front page).
The latest events are also a reminder, contrary to what many commentators claim, of why Labour was right to elect Miliband, rather than his brother, in 2010. David Miliband, who served in Blair’s cabinet and who was long regarded as his heir apparent (Blair memorably dubbed him the “Wayne Rooney” of his government) would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to distance himself from his party’s past. But Ed, who stood on a platform of radical change, was able to offer the clean break with New Labour that was so desperately needed. By doing so, and winning back many of those voters who were so alienated by Blair, he has ensured that Labour has a far greater chance of victory in 2015 than it would have had under a continuity candidate.