Francis Beckett

The Independent's John Rentoul struggles, he writes on his blog, to understand "the socio-psychology of Blair rage."  Which shows how living for years in the Westminster village can make the real world look very strange.

He says I hate Tony Blair because he's not Clement Attlee.  I don't: I hate him because he is Tony Blair, the most vacuous Prime Minister Britain has had since Ramsay MacDonald.

The ground is too well-trodden to go over it in detail.  Either you can stomach a Labour Prime Minister who takes us to war on a lie; who does it so casually that he never bothers to think, or force his American allies to think, what the endgame and the exit strategy are going to be; who so misuses his power that he is willing to impose what amounts to censorship over a national broadcasting station, the BBC; who makes us all complicit in torture; who nonchalantly throws away Labour's one chance in at least a generation to make a fairer society, and leaves the gap between rich and poor wider than he found it; or you can't.  I can't.

He says my political hero Clement Attlee (I have written biographies of both Attlee and Blair - I admire the former and despise the latter) is "the figment of rose-tinted labourist imagination." Is the National Health Service, the welfare state and universal state education a figment of my imagination, or did John's friends and relations benefit from it too?  Attlee had just six years and changed the way we all lived.  Blair had ten and his rule was merely a continuation of Thatcher's.

That said, I've an apology to make to John. The BBC's presenter did use the words "war criminal" about Blair on the Sunday morning programme I appeared on; I missed it, and John kindly points out that it's easy to do when you're in the studio yourself.  The presenter said Blair "had been dubbed a war criminal." It was not just a studio guest who used the words.

Even so, what's wrong about the presenter saying it?  I don't happen to think it's a proper description - like John, I think you devalue the phrase  by using it of Blair. But it's manifestly true that he "has been dubbed" a war criminal, and by a reasonably number of people too. 

So I still think John was wrong to attack "the BBC" for "peddling" this line - if only because it sounds dangerously like those dark days when Blair and his henchmen stifled BBC reporting, and forced it to fire both the reporter and the director general for making a statement which everyone now knows to be true, but which was inconvenient for the government.