Charlie Beckett: Blair 'bizarre' to suggest press undermines Parliament

Charlie Beckett, director of the journalism and society think tank Polis and a journalist of 20 years’ experience, said he found a lot in Tony Blair’s speech yesterday that he agreed with, but called Blair’s view that journalists had undermined Parliament “bizarre”.

“My basic take on the whole Blairite thing is that I have no problem with spinning. Let’s all grow up, it’s just political persuasion by another means. Lying’s not good but generally we should all grow up.

“I don’t disagree with much of what Blair says, I think his analysis is spot on. He describes pressures very accurately.”

But Beckett found Blair’s suggestions for how the relationship between politics and journalists could be improved, such as journalists reporting maiden speeches in the House of Commons, “odd” and “bizarre”.

“Are you serious? That was really weird. The idea that you should report all maiden speeches… He’s obviously never listened to one. Backbench speeches in general are crap and unbearably dull – and if you really want to get, you can get it online.”

As for whether Beckett thought the incoming Prime Minister Gordon Brown would usher in a new era of spin-free politics, the answer was unequivocal.

“Gordon Brown spends endless lunches with [The Sun editor Rebekah Wade], they are hand in glove. So the idea that Gordon is somehow going to operate different in practice is crap.

“Blair, in the wake of Iraq and so on, has already tried to de-politicise, de-spin his media operations and Gordon I’m sure will continue to do that. But if you look at his advisors, they are a group of young men and women who probably share New Labour’s distaste of journalists generally and will try to manipulate and control the flow of information.”

Beckett points to the huge media coverage in the run-up to Brown’s election as the next Labour leader of his views on national identity and plans for a “Britain Day”.

“It’s an attempt to correct the mistaken impression of some people that he is Scottish: ‘he’s not, he’s British’. That’s a classic Blairite, ‘Cool Britannia’-style ploy.

‘None of these things are innately wicked or wrong, but the idea that Gordon is entirely straight and will come blushing, embarrassed to the media, is crap.’

Whether he can repair the damage between journalists and politicians, Beckett says, is another thing.

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