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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Tony Blair

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Tony Blair

Last Build Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2007 00:21:13 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

The Damaged Relationship Between Public Life & Media

Wed, 13 Jun 2007 00:21:13 -0600

As a result of being at the top of the greasy pole for thirteen years, ten of them as Prime Minister, my life, my work as Prime Minister, and its interaction with the world of communication I think has given me pretty deep experience, again for better or worse. Let me say categorically, a free media is a vital part of a free society. You only need to look at where such a free media is absent to know this truth. But it is also part of freedom to be able to comment on the media. It has a complete right to be free, and I, like anyone else, have a complete right to speak. My principal reflection is not about "blaming" anyone. It is that the relationship between politics, public life and the media is changing as a result of the changing context of communication in which we all operate; no-one is at fault - this change is a fact; but it is my view that the effect of this change is seriously adverse to the way public life is conducted; and that we need, at the least, a proper and considered debate about how we manage the future, in which it is in all our interests that the public is properly and accurately informed. They are after all the priority and they are not well served by the current state of affairs. In the analysis I am about to make, I first acknowledge my own complicity. We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our own defence, after 18 years of Opposition and the, at times, ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative. But such an attitude ran the risk of fuelling the trends in communications that I am about to question. It is also incidentally hard for the public to know the facts, even when subject to the most minute scrutiny, if those facts arise out of issues of profound controversy, as the Hutton Inquiry showed. I would only point out that the Hutton Inquiry (along with 3 other inquiries) was a six month investigation in which I as Prime Minister and other senior Ministers and officials faced unprecedented public questioning and scrutiny. The verdict was disparaged because it wasn't the one the critics wanted. But it was an example of being held to account, not avoiding it. Anyway, leave that to one side. And in none of this also do I ignore the fact that this relationship has always been fraught. From Stanley Baldwin's statement about "power without responsibility being the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages" back to the often extraordinarily brutal treatment, if you've ever read it, meted out to Gladstone and Disraeli through to Harold Wilson's complaints of the 60s, the relations between politics and the media are and are by necessity, difficult. It's as it should be. The question is: is it qualitatively and quantitatively different today? And I think yes. So that's my starting point. However, why is that? Because the objective circumstances in which the world of communications operate today are radically altered. The media world - like everything else - is becoming more fragmented, more diverse and above all transformed by technology. The main BBC and ITN bulletins used to have audiences of 8, even 10 million. Today the average is half that. At the same time, there are rolling 24 hour news programmes that cover events as they unfold. In the early 1980s, there were 3 TV stations broadcasting in the UK. Today there are hundreds. In 1995 over 200 TV shows had audiences of over 15 million. Today there is almost none. Newspapers fight for a share of a shrinking market. Many are now read on-line, not the next day. Internet advertising has overtaken newspaper ads. There are roughly 70 million blogs in existence, so I'm told, with around 120,000 being created every day. In particular, younger people will, less and less, get their news from traditional outlets. But, in addition to that, the forms of communication are merging and interchanging. The BBC website is crucial to the modern BBC. Papers have Podcasts and written material on the web. News is becoming increasingly a free good, provi[...]

The Moment for Reconciliation

Fri, 26 May 2006 23:59:43 -0600

A year later, Kosovo happened and the spectre of ethnic cleansing returned to Europe. We put pressure on Milosevic. We threatened diplomatic action. We eventually took military action by air strikes. But it was only when, with considerable courage President Clinton indicated - and it was only an indication - he might be prepared to use ground force, that suddenly Milosevic collapsed and the crisis was resolved. What these two events taught me was that the rule book of international politics has been torn up. Interdependence - the fact of a crisis somewhere becoming a crisis everywhere - makes a mockery of traditional views of national interest. You can't have a coherent view of national interest today without a coherent view of the international community. Nations, even ones as large and powerful as the USA, are affected profoundly by world events; and not affected, in time or at the margins but at breakneck speed and fundamentally. Why is immigration the No.1 domestic policy issue in much of Europe and in the US today? What are the solutions? The answer is that globalisation is making mass migration a reality; and only global development will make it a manageable reality. Which is the issue that has rocketed up the agenda of most political leaders in a way barely foreseen even 3 years back? Energy policy. China and India need energy to grow. The damage to the environment of carbon emissions is now accepted. It doesn't much matter whether the issue is approached through energy security or climate change, the fact is we need a framework, internationally agreed, through which the developing nations can grow, the wealthy countries maintain their standard of living and the environment be protected from disaster. And this is not a long-term issue - though its consequences are long-term. It is here and now. The point is that in respect of any of these challenges, certain things stand out. They affect us all. They can only be effectively tackled together. And they require a pre-emptive and not simply reactive response. Here is where it becomes very difficult. In the old days - I mean a few decades back - countries could wait, assess over time, even opt out - at least until everything was clear. We could act when we knew. Now we have to act on the basis of precaution. What is more such action will often require intervention, far beyond our own boundaries. The terrorism we are fighting in Britain, wasn't born in Britain, though on 7th July last year it was British born terrorists that committed murder. The roots are in schools and training camps and indoctrination thousands of miles away, as well as in the towns and cities of modern Britain. The migration we experience is from Eastern Europe, and the poverty-stricken states of Africa and the solution to it lies there at its source not in the nation feeling its consequence. What this means is that we have to act, not react; we have to do so on the basis of prediction not certainty; and such action will often, usually indeed, be outside of our own territory. And what all that means is: that this can't be done easily unless it is done on an agreed basis of principle, of values that are shared and fair. Common action only works when founded on common values. Therefore, to meet effectively the challenge that faces us, we must fashion an international community that both embodies, and acts in pursuit of global values: liberty, democracy, tolerance, justice. These are the values we believe in. These are the values universally accepted across all nations, faiths and races, though not by all elements within them. These are values that can inspire and unify. So, how, at this moment in time, in an international community that has been riven, do we achieve such unity around such values? Let us go back to the immediate issue: Iraq. We can argue forever about the merits of removing Saddam. Our opponents will say: you made terrorism worse and point to what is happening there. I believe differently. I believe this globa[...]

Why We Fight On

Wed, 22 Mar 2006 23:27:26 -0600

Confusingly, its proponents and opponents come from all sides of the political spectrum. So it is apparently a "neo-conservative" ie right wing view, to be ardently in favour of spreading democracy round the world; whilst others on the right take the view that this is dangerous and deluded - the only thing that matters is an immediate view of national interest. Some progressives see intervention as humanitarian and necessary; others take the view that provided dictators don't threaten our citizens directly, what they do with their own, is up to them. The debate on world trade has thrown all sides into an orgy of political cross-dressing. Protectionist sentiment is rife on the left; on the right, there are calls for "economic patriotism"; meanwhile some voices left and right, are making the case for free trade not just on grounds of commerce but of justice. The true division in foreign policy today is between: those who want the shop "open", or those who want it "closed"; those who believe that the long-term interests of a country lie in it being out there, engaged, interactive and those who think the short-term pain of such a policy and its decisions, too great. This division has strong echoes in debates not just over foreign policy and trade but also over immigration. Progressives may implement policy differently from conservatives, but the fault lines are the same. Where progressive and conservative policy can differ is that progressives are stronger on the challenges of poverty, climate change and trade justice. I have no doubt at all it is impossible to gain support for our values, unless the demand for justice is as strong as the demand for freedom; and the willingness to work in partnership with others is an avowed preference to going it alone, even if that may sometimes be necessary. I believe we will not ever get real support for the tough action that may well be essential to safeguard our way of life; unless we also attack global poverty and environmental degradation or injustice with equal vigour. Neither in defending this interventionist policy do I pretend that mistakes have not been made or that major problems do not confront us and there are many areas in which we have not intervened as effectively as I would wish, even if only by political pressure. Sudan, for example; the appalling deterioration in the conditions of the people of Zimbabwe; human rights in Burma; the virtual enslavement of the people of North Korea. I also acknowledge - and shall at a later time expand on this point - that the state of the MEPP and the stand-off between Israel and Palestine remains a, perhaps the, real, genuine source of anger in the Arab and Muslim world that goes far beyond usual anti-western feeling. The issue of "even handedness" rankles deeply. I will set out later how we should respond to Hamas in a way that acknowledges its democratic mandate but seeks to make progress peacefully. So this is not an attempt to deflect criticism or ignore the huge challenges which remain; but to set out the thinking behind the foreign policy we have pursued. Over the next few weeks, I will outline the implication of this agenda in three speeches, including this one. In this, the first, I will describe how I believe we can defeat global terrorism and why I believe victory for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan is a vital element of doing that. In the second, I shall outline the importance of a broad global alliance to achieve our common goals. In the third, in America, I shall say how the international institutions need radical reform to make them capable of implementing such an agenda, in a strong and effective multilateral way. But throughout all three, I want to stress why this concept of an international community, based on core, shared values, prepared actively to intervene and resolve problems, is an essential pre-condition of our future prosperity and stability. It is in confronting global terrorism today that the sharpest debate and disagreement is fou[...]