Monday, 17 June 2013

On Tony Blair

Following rumours that the former Prime Minister Tony Blair had an affair with Wendi Deng, wife of the media billionaire Rupert Murdoch, a spokesman for Blair, speaking to the Hollywood Reporter, said: “If you are asking if they are having an affair, the answer is no.”

We can all savour the texture of that statement while remembering what the veteran journalist Claud Cockburn once said: 'Never believe anything  in politics until it has been officially denied'. 

You know what? On hearing the rumour I had a momentary spasm of of interest before I settled back into my usual state of imperturbability. Am I really so jaded? Why no righteous indignation at the malign unaccountability of the rich and powerful? The trouble is that one has only to hear such a thing to assume it's either true (which is horrible) or something concocted to distract us from an even more jaw-dropping scandal (which is worrying).

It's not just establishment shenanigans. One cannot see a sobbing parent at a televised press conference pleading for the safe return of a missing child without momentarily assuming that he (or, let's be fair, she) is likely to be the one who will end up on trial for abduction and murder. One hears that David Cameron has been left ashen-faced and reeling by news of an illicit affair under his very nose, and assumes without a moment's reflection that . . . but my country's punitive libel laws make such speculation expensive. One reads that this or that gormless celebrity is getting engaged or married to, or divorced from, his or her equally gormless partner, or is in rehab, or bankrupt, and in each case one thinks: so what? Who cares? Who cares about their happiness or misery? Who cares what they feel?

This is bad.

It strikes me in my bleaker moments that if the Germans had won the Second World War and imposed nazi cultural values (if 'values' is the right word) we'd today face the commodification of human beings through brutally exploitative reality television shows, entertainment programmes based on exclusion and humiliation, lots of celebrity, the constant endorsement of material wealth, minutely-legislated social behaviour (health injunctions, for instance), carefully-calibrated tolerances of difference, language taboos and ubiquitous electronic surveillance. And lots of sport, of course.

You catch my drift. But it's a crass and grumpy drift and I'm not proud of it. We are no more saddled with nazi cultural values than we are obliged to drive Volkswagens, swig Fanta or wear Hugo Boss clobber - all nazi legacies, all freely available but shunned only by the ethically scrupulous. What I mean is that in my lifetime the inexorable coarsening of public sensibility (or at least my sensibility) has made us (or me) wearily indifferent to the revelation (or, if you insist, ill-founded rumour) that a powerful man has been getting jiggy with another powerful man's powerful wife, or that a television gardener has some private sorrow, or that a leading banker is a shit, all prompts a wider indifference towards the things that still matter, and will always matter.

To return to the Blair/Deng rumour. Does it really matter? Does it really matter whether or not the former Prime Minister of Great Britain and head of the Parliamentary Labour Party, had an adulterous relationship with the wife of the world's most powerful media baron?

Well does it?

Of course it does. But who cares?

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