Just over two weeks to go until the tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, and the Observer launches what looks like a desperate campaign to rehabilitate the reputation of Tony Blair. The vehicle for so doing is the supposed “triumph” of the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, and Blair’s “lasting legacy” to Africa in particular. An encomium from Bob Geldof (a member of Blair’s Commission for Africa) and a self-congratulatory piece from Blair himself are backed up by the findings of a new report from Bono’s NGO One and validated by Save the Children’s Justin Forsyth, who worked for Blair on Gleneagles and awards the summit a generous “7 out of 10”.
It needs to be remembered that this was not the verdict of the Make Poverty History coalition. Whatever attempts are made to tamper with the historical record (and these are not the first), the MPH coalition declared unequivocally that the G8 summit had failed to deliver on its key issues – or, as Kumi Naidoo famously put it in the closing press conference, “The people have roared but the G8 has whispered.” That assessment was reached after each of the three policy constituencies behind MPH (the Trade Justice Movement, UK Aid Network and Jubilee Debt Campaign) had passed verdict on the elements of the G8 package that they were focused on. The call at the heart of the MPH campaign was for justice, not charity, and that call was not heeded by Blair or any of the other G8 heads of government.
The Observer has its own reasons for wishing to deflect interest from the anniversary of the Iraq war. As revealed by Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News, the paper’s consistent support for Blair and for the war itself was the result of a far too cosy relationship between its most senior editorial executives and Downing Street. Anyone who has not read that story should do so. It is a cautionary tale for all those who seek to work in close collaboration with government on international matters, and not just the fourth estate.