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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Beleaguered Blair will face the press
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair will go on live TV

Unlike the World Cup, the nation will not come to a grinding halt when Tony Blair stages his first live, televised lobby briefing on Thursday morning.

And, unlike the England squad, the odds on him winning are not shortening.

It may be a new move towards openness and transparency - although that still remains to be seen - but it is far from historic.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair won't compete with world cup
The prime minister holds such press conferences whenever he feels like it, or has something he wants to tell the nation.

The difference this time is that it is not timed to coincide with any particular announcement but will be a free-for-all.

It will be open only to the political reporters in the Westminster lobby, who normally operate away from the glare of TV cameras and radio microphones.

This time, they will be allowed to ask whatever they like for about half an hour.

Killer memo

To some extent both sides will be under the microscope on what could be the first of many such events. But it will be particularly difficult for Mr Blair.

He could hardly have picked a worse time - or better time, depending on which team you support - to host this occasion.

Thanks to a series of alleged scandals, culminating in the lying-in-state row, his integrity is under scrutiny like never before.

And unless the latest controversy is settled once and for all before Thursday, or something else suddenly blows up to grab attention, it is bound to dominate proceedings.

Downing Street has been doing its best to close down the row and all attention is now focused on Black Rod's so-called "killer memo".

This is the document in which Black Rod, Sir Michel Willcocks, is said to detail his concerns over the prime minister's office's alleged attempt to "hijack" the Queen Mother's lying-in-state.

Wound up

The prime minister's spokesman is eager not to be seen giving an opinion one way or another on whether this memo should be published.

Black Rod Sir Michael Willcocks
Black Rod has his own memo
"It is entirely a matter for him and if we indicate any opinion it would be interpreted as us telling Black Rod what to do," he said.

And Downing Street definitely does not want to wind up Sir Michael further than he already appears to be wound.

And in any case, it is highly unlikely the issue will be settled by the publication of the memo.

It appears to be accepted that Sir Michael has one interpretation of what the prime minister's people were up to when they spoke to him about Mr Blair's role in the occasion - and Downing Street has another.

It also appears that both sides are absolutely convinced that their interpretation is the right one.

Only a memo showing that Sir Michael agrees absolutely with Downing Street will kill off this particularly damaging row.

Emphatic denials

Failing that, it still all comes down to who you believe is telling the truth - or the closest thing to it.

And the fact that so many still doubt Downing Street's version, despite all the robust and emphatic denials, speaks volumes about the current state of relations between the media and the government.

This is not just a conspiracy between right wing newspapers aimed at destroying Tony Blair's credibility - although some may certainly wish to do that.

This is far more the result of five years of spin, manipulation and downright mendacity which has had a deeply corrosive effect.

And only a completely new approach from the top of government will be able to turn that around, if it's not already too late.

Perhaps that is the prime minister's hope - that his personal appearance will succeed in doing what all his and his staff's statements have so far notably failed to do.

See also:

17 Jun 02 | UK Politics
17 Jun 02 | UK Politics
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