Lying-in-State Gate?

Great Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair
AP
Newspapers can make or break Presidents and Prime Ministers. Thirty years ago, the Washington Post blew the lid off Watergate, and eventually Richard Nixon went into free fall. Now, here in Britain, the newspapers are gunning for our Prime Minister, Tony Blair. It’s not a scandal on the same scale as Watergate. But it could be the first nail in his political coffin.

In March, when the Queen Mother died, this country went into mourning, big time. The old lady was due to lie in state, so thousands of ordinary Brits could pay their last respects. Nothing to do with politics. But did the Prime Minister try to muscle in on the act? Why did his officials try to persuade the organiser of the ceremony to let Tony Blair personally meet the coffin? They even wanted him to walk to the hall through the crowds, watched by the world’s TV cameras. They wanted publicity. But the old fashioned ex-soldier in charge of the ceremony said no, politely, firmly and repeatedly. And somehow the papers got a sniff of what was going on and ran the story. Blair’s office went ballistic, denied everything. They even lodged formal complaints to make the papers say sorry. That was the mistake. Because when the old fashioned ex-soldier in charge of the ceremony was asked for his version of events, he told the truth. Yes, Blair’s office did try to lean on him. Hard. And so, Blair’s office quietly withdrew the complaints, and the newspapers have been shouting about it ever since. Tony Blair, our most popular political leader in living memory, is beginning to look like the rest of them. Suspect, not always to be trusted. He may not have bugged the headquarters of his rivals, but it smells.

History is a good guide to political survival. Prime Ministers in this country tend to last about six years before the voters or their parties or the newspapers get rid of them. Blair’s done five, same as Richard Nixon.