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On Blair and Bullshit

13 April 2005
“Cool Britannia is not a term I have ever used”, Tony Blair claimed last Friday – forgetting that he had used the dread phrase only five days earlier in an article for the Sunday Times. That was seven years ago in April 1998. The quote is from Francis Wheen, its reprinted in his collected journalism, Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies. So the Prime Minister has been at it for a long time. “Why now?” he must be asking Cherie, why don’t they trust me now, I’ve always been like this, and they always used to trust me! Andreas Whittam Smith addresses the issue in his most recent column in the Independent. After listing some of Tony Blair’s recent deceptions he asks himself what sort of person does this? Blair himself could answer that he is at least as honest and open as previous Premiers (a point made by Whittam Smith’s colleague Steve Richards – but would you want this said about you? I’d call it a back-handed compliment.) Whittam Smith seeks out a different kind of comparison: with the crooked newspaper proprietor Robert Maxwell who ended up jumping from his yacht. “I believe that Mr Blair habitually states what ought to be the case, regardless of whether it is strictly true or false.” Why ‘strictly’? “Like Mr Maxwell”, Andreas continues, ‘he is unembarrassed when found out and carries on regardless’. This concedes much too much. I tried to analyse what I called Blair’s Campbell's Code It uses ‘truth’ in deliberate instrumental way to crush perception of reality. If you think that it too conspiratorial, then the other explanation is systemic in a different sense. In a word it is bullshit, as my friend Tom Nairn explains in his new article in openDemocracy, in part stimulated by the reflections in this blog. All real name comments welcome, please send them to [email protected]

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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