Leveson Inquiry: Tony Blair dissected

Tony Blair's appearance at the Leveson Inquiry was an unmissable opportunity for sketchwriters and commentators.

Chewing over his performance afterwards, many had more to say about his personal appearance and demeanour than any revelations he may have made about the relationship between politicians and the press.

"Old blue eyes"

The Murdoch-owned Times carried a front page picture of Mr Blair, jacket slung casually over one shoulder, with the headline: "Old blue eyes is back with his greatest hits."

The musical theme continued with sketchwriter Ben Macintyre, who wrote: "When a veteran performer takes the stage you remember just how good they once were, or how bad: Englebert Humperdinck came a cropper in the Eurovision song contest but Tony Blair rocked the Leveson Inquiry yesterday with a vintage political performance."

Macintyre said the inquiry team "seemed awed by this blast from the past", carrying copies of his autobiography "like Bibles".

"Mr Blair came as a witness but by the end of the session Lord Justice Leveson was asking for his advice."

'Seasoned thespian'

From a musical metaphor to a cricketing one, Brian Reade in the staunchly Labour Daily Mirror was scathing. of the party's former leader.

"Finally, after two hours of Tony Blair being thrown gentle full-tosses, someone had the balls to lob in a hand-grenade and rattle him," he wrote.

That someone was protester David Lawley Wakelin, who "brought a jolt of reality to a room suffocating in sycophancy".

Describing the session as "a ­Political Broadcast On Behalf Of The World Statesmen Party" - and Mr Blair himself as "a seasoned thespian" - he said the ex-PM faced "little cross-examination".

Reade's take on his tan - more of that later - was particularly caustic. His chosen phrase? "Tikka-tinged".

'Yuh... y'know'

The right-leaning Daily Telegraph's editorial took a very dim view of his evidence, and on the man himself, sketchwriter Michael Deacon declared the performance "classic Blair".

"Apart from his skin (now an expensive-looking teak) and his hair (a Caesar-like silver), he hasn't changed. "Look", "yuh", "frankly", "y'know", "let me make one thing absolutely clear": he rolled out all the hits.

"He treated us to his range of expansive hand gestures (impressive, these - you can hardly see the wires). As he breezed out for a five-minute break, he flashed a smile at the public gallery, as though they were a cluster of fans who follow him everywhere."

Deacon said that unlike most Leveson witnesses who "talk defensively", Mr Blair "spoke as if he were some top-flight management consultant, and Lord Leveson and Mr [Robert] Jay [QC to the inquiry] were two hopeful young businessmen who'd come to seek the fruits of his wisdom".

'Elder statesman'

Mr Blair's session also made headlines across the Atlantic.

"If there has been something Nixonian about him, a man fallen from grace at home yet still widely celebrated abroad, Mr. Blair marked a comeback of a kind on Monday," John F Burns and Alan Cowell wrote in the New York Times.

"He rolled out a new model of himself," they said, "Tony Blair as the 60-ish, above-the-fray, unflappable elder statesmen."

The clothing - "immaculately tailored" - and the skin tone - "deeply tanned" - again got a mention.

On his dealings with Rupert Murdoch, Mr Blair seemed "genially laid back".

'Trust me Tony'

Unlike most who focused on how good Mr Blair looked, the Scotsman's sketchwriter David Maddox said his hair was "whiter" and "the furrowed lines in his brow far more pronounced".

Nevertheless, though, the former PM still has the "well-rehearsed magic that captivated a nation" - and "it was like seeing the ghost of 'trust me Tony' return".

"All the old tricks were there. He didn't say 'I'm a reasonable guy' with his mouth, but his well-rehearsed body language did the talking for him in that respect."

Maddox said Mr Blair began with "the lawyer's trick" of making a small confession - he was too close to the Murdochs - but then used that to "more easily deny the bigger allegation" - that a deal had been done with them.

Legacy 'trashed'

"Labour's all-time winner" is how Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee described the ex-PM. .

But she asked, "why has he been so reckless with his reputation since leaving office", earning "obscene sums of money" and "keeping bad company"?

Toynbee compared Mr Blair with Jimmy Carter - US President-turned human rights campaigner - arguing that had he taken that same "path of virtue", "his reputation would be growing by the year".

"Most ex-leaders burnish their place in history. How sad to be reminded of his great political talents on Monday, as he trashes his own legacy."

'Episcopal in his piety'

Singled out for criticism itself by Mr Blair at Leveson, the Daily Mail felt the former PM was given an easy ride.

Stephen Glover wrote that "either as a result of ignorance or excessive indulgence, [the] interrogation of the former prime minister was terribly lame".

"A stranger to our shores watching Tony Blair at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday would have got the impression of a reasonable and decent man who had unaccountably been abused and mistreated by a - his word - 'feral' Press."

In his sketch, Glover's colleague Quentin Letts described him as "Mr Cool" , adding: "He was lean, tanned, becoming episcopal in his piety as he dropped his chin and stared ahead, eyeballs crossing."


Peter McHugh, in the New Statesman, again pointed out the tan and smart suit, describing the ex-PM as "an international jetsetter".

Like others, he also felt Mr Blair had the inquiry - or rather, inquirers - eating out of his hand.

"Gone was the scourge of the Murdochs and the Grand Inquisitor of Coulson and Brooks, and in his place a new user-friendly Jay happy to let Tony use 10 words where one would have sufficed," he wrote.

He added: "Having no doubt already got each other's phone numbers, and without a glove landed on him, Tony then left promising to write in with his thoughts on the future of the press."

'Predictably smooth'

The Spectator magazine's James Forsyth was another commentator who suggested Mr Blair seemed to be there as much to give advice as evidence.

On the man personally, he felt he was "predictably smooth" and "slipped away from any difficult question in his usual style".

"The Tony Blair Show was back in town today," he wrote.

"The former prime minister was clearly less nervous in front of this inquiry than he was in front of Chilcot [the Iraq Inquiry]; there was little of the passion and intensity in his voice that there was that day as he defended his decision to take the country to war."

'Enjoying himself'

Judy James, body language expert, told the Sun that Mr Blair arrived "breathless with a jutting lower jaw and strangely humble posture", but before long was "brimming with confidence as he ran through his full repertoire of hand gestures".

"We saw the gated hands - with fingers locked together - for authority; steepled fingers which demonstrate status; and the thumb of power - a fist with the thumb placed over it- to stamp out contradiction.

"For much of the time his thumbs pointed up - a tell-tale sign he was confident and enjoying himself."