The wittiest anecdote from Tony Blair’s memoirs about the media that I’ve yet come across is reproduced in a review of the book by Peter Stothard, editor of The Times for several years of Blair’s premiership and at the time of the Millennium celebrations on the evening of January 31st 1999. Stothard is recalling that evening’s fiasco.
“Media studies has long been one of Blair’s specialities – and there is much of it in this book, some nuanced and some not. Excessive examination of media rights and wrongs tends to make its participants mad. Blair focuses comically on one his favourite paradoxes in describing a moment when he admits himself to have been as maddened by media frustration as at any time in the book. The setting is the first night at the Millennium Dome, an early New Labour disaster in which, I should declare, I was involuntarily involved. On the last afternoon of the second millennium, the then Prime Minister, as he describes the scene, is dreading the formal opening of the third, just as is almost everyone else due to be present at Greenwich, including the Queen. In line with his lowest expectations, the big “River of Fire” fireworks go fut; the big “Millennium Wheel” does not turn. While he, his family, and the royal party are safely delivered to the £700 million plastic tent of fun on a new Tube line and in good time for midnight, the nation’s newspaper editors, of whom I was then one, were left queuing for hours at Stratford Station.
At this point of discovery Blair engages the minister in charge, his old friend and flatmate Lord “Charlie” Falconer, vigorously and by the lapels:
“Please, please, dear God, please tell me you didn’t have the media coming here by tube from Stratford just like ordinary members of the public.”
“Well, we thought it would be more democratic that way.” “Democratic? What fool thought that? They’re the media, for Christ’s sake. They write about the people, they don’t want to be treated like them.” “Well, what did you want us to do, get them all a stretch limo?” “Yes, Charlie”, I thundered, “with the boy or girl of their choice and as much champagne as they can drink.””