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Belfast Telegraph

Public can judge the worth of Blair's word

By Lindy McDowell 30 January 2004

IT'S been a week of major disappointment all round, then. Despite the excitement we had been urged to prepare ourselves for, in the event what we got was a week of sadly shattered expectations.

Blair humiliated over top-up fees? Blair monstered in the Hutton report? Blair forced to chuck in the towel, hand over the reins to Gordon and retire to a life of ignominy and lymphatic drainage with Carole Caplin in Tuscany... ?

Sadly, none of it happened.

Jordan didn't, as forecast, have a topless cat fight with Kerry McCleavage in the celebrity jungle.

And the Arctic style cold snap we were virtually guaranteed by the weather people, turned out to be little more than a nippy few days in January.

In short, it was a week as flat as Lord Hutton's soporific delivery of his much-heralded report.

And yet, we had been promised so very much more. Barbecued Blair and Siberian blizzard. So how did all those experts get it all so wrong?

Nightly the evening news bulletin had been preparing us for regime change and a new Ice Age.

On the latter point, fair enough, it did snow in some parts. But such was the hysteria of most of this week's forecasts we'd been bracing ourselves for extreme polar conditions.

When you're listening to news reports that suggest you shouldn't even consider going out in the car without a month's emergency provisions, a satellite phone, Banjo Bannon in the passenger seat and a team of huskies in the boot, you're not exactly thinking typical British winter.

Now that we've got Hutton out of the way, shouldn't we be demanding an inquiry into this: into who sexed up the weather forecast?

The phrase "sexing up" has gone out of fashion a bit in recent months.

But with our Government now cleared on all counts of hyping up, overstating, exaggerating, misrepresenting or any manner of sneaky, leaky behaviour including (let's be honest) bare-faced lying, I expect to see it making some sort of a comeback.

The problem is that too many people, after this week's events, have finally had a bellyful of hype, spin and sexing-up.

What most of us now would want to see in public life is a bit of sexing down for a change. A bit of plain speaking and honest appraisal of events.

Watching Blair, Campbell and, to some lesser extent, Hoon do their vindicated martyr stuff over the last couple of days, does not exactly encourage confidence that this will henceforth be the case.

Spin has served these boys very well indeed. Why stop now?

One BBC reporter may stand accused (by some) of not wanting to let the facts stand in the way of a good story.

New Labour, let us not forget, has over its term and a half in office, actually made that official government policy.

I have a distinct memory of Tony Blair in Northern Ireland writing and signing promises on a large board to the effect that sanctions would be imposed on paramilitary organisations should their violence continue.

Maybe that's not exactly what it said in the small print. But let's be clear, that's what most of us took to be what Tony would call, the totality of what he was saying.

Six years on what evidence do we have that this was a man prepared to stand over his word? Judge for yourself.

On Northern Ireland, on Iraq, on foundation hospitals, on tuition fees... the list goes on and on but the accusation is the same. Labour lied.

Nobody ever expects total honesty from politicians. But was there ever a government so associated in the public mind with spin, manipulation, exaggeration and going back on its own word? Tony B.Liar is the T-shirt slogan. What sort of legacy is that for any Prime Minister?

The Hutton Report may have given Tony and his cronies a clean bill of health this week. The public jury however, seems not so obviously convinced.

Tony's week of triumph may yet rebound upon him.

The BBC has many, many faults but the public still has a lot of warmth and affection for the institution. In that respect New Labour does not compare.

Far be it for me to hype the situation like an over enthusiastic weather forecaster.

But Tony may find it's about to get very, very cold out there.