6 bombshells in the Archives – from Blair race jitters to ‘Your Song’ at Diana’s funeral



For some Mirror readers it may seem like only yesterday.

But Tony Blair ’s ascent to power is now so long ago, secret papers from his government are being published by the National Archives.

Two years of historic records are being published at a time as the ’30-year rule’ on classified documents is reduced to 20 years over a decade.

Now it is the turn of the years immediately after Mr Blair came to power, from early “sleaze” fears within No10 to his relations with Bill Clinton, his own “loony” back bench and his Cabinet over a racism report.

The papers also shed new light on Princess Diana’s funeral – and the politics behind Elton John’s now-famous musical intervention.

Here are six things we found out in this year’s release.

Tony Blair didn’t want to ‘go OTT’ in fight against racism

Tony Blair torpedoed plans for an ambitious race equality strategy following the inquiry report into the 1993 racist killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Then-Home Secretary Jack Straw wanted to publish a government proposal with a 10-year strategy for tackling racial inequality.

But the then Prime Minister was sceptical about the idea, fearing it could result in a “regulation nightmare”.

Angus Lapsley, an official in Mr Blair’s private office, noted they were “cool” towards a suggestion that police officers who used racist language or committed racist acts should usually be dismissed.

The Met Police investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder was found to have failed in part due to ‘institutional racism’
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Appearing to fear a reaction from the right-wing press, he wrote: “This could easily become a ‘Telegraph’ cause celebre if taken too far.”

In a handwritten note in the margin, Mr Blair wrote “I agree”, adding: “We do not want to go OTT on this. You’re right.”

Instead, Mr Blair agreed a series of consultation papers responding to the main recommendations in Lord Macpherson’s report into the Met Police.

Elton John was originally slated to play Your Song at Diana’s funeral

A top clergyman personally appealed to Buckingham Palace to let Sir Elton John sing Candle In The Wind at Princess Diana’s funeral, newly-released government files reveal today.

The papers also show Westminster Abbey originally believed Sir Elton intended to sing Your Song – which was wrongly listed as Our Song on the first draft order of service.

The singer’s emotional performance of a reworked version of Candle In the Wind was one of the most memorable moments of the Westminster Abbey service – and the single went on to sell 33 million copies.

Elton John performing a rewritten version of his song ‘Candle in the wind’ as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, at her funeral
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But as Britain prepares for the 25th anniversary of the Princess of Wales’s death next August, papers published by the National Archives suggest there was resistance to the plan.

They indicate some believed the rewritten lyrics by Sir Elton and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin were “too sentimental”.

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Dr Wesley Carr, successfully argued that allowing Sir Elton to appear would be an “imaginative and generous” gesture to the public – who had turned against the Royal Family in the tense days following the princess’s death on August 31, 1997.

Blair’s No10 branded Lindsay Hoyle a ‘publicity-mad loony’

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was branded a “publicity-mad loony” by No10 officials for fuelling conspiracy theories about Diana’s death.

In summer 1998, Mr Hoyle, then a Labour backbencher, sought to press Mr Blair over the supposed involvement of “British security agents” in Paris on the fateful night.

Mr Hoyle wrote to the Labour leader urging him to “clear up some of the secrecy and controversies” surrounding Diana’s death after his attempts to table written questions in the Commons were blocked by parliamentary authorities.

In his reply, Mr Blair said “any suggestion that any British official organisation or department had anything to do with this tragic event is both ridiculous and deeply distressing for the bereaved families.”

A No10 official scrawled an internal handwritten note, saying: “Lindsay Hoyle is publicity-mad loony.”

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was a Labour backbencher in 1997
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A spokesman for the Speaker said: “Lindsay Hoyle was following up on concerns on behalf of his constituents at the time, as any diligent MP does in the course of their work.

“He was also anxious that the constant repetition of these rumours was corrosive to the morale of the Security Services – and to public trust in them.

“He felt that seeking a public statement would give the Prime Minister an opportunity to set the record straight.”

Blair’s No10 secretly hired law firm to look at the Lewinsky scandal

Downing Street secretly hired a US law firm to advise on how much trouble Bill Clinton was in over the Monica Lewinsky affair ahead of Tony Blair’s first visit to the White House.

Then Prime Minister Mr Blair flew into Washington DC in February 1998 at the height of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s wide-ranging investigation into the conduct of Mr Clinton and his wife Hillary.

Mr Blair won enormous favour with the Clinton administration after he used a joint press conference to declare his support for the embattled US President.

But files released today by the National Archives show that behind the scenes in No10 there was concern Mr Blair could be damaged by association with the scandal.

Chief of staff Jonathan Powell took the precaution of commissioning a Washington law firm, Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan LLP, to advise on the extent of the President’s legal predicament.

At their joint press conference, Mr Blair delighted Americans by declaring his support for Mr Clinton as “someone I can trust, someone I can rely upon, someone I am proud to call not just a colleague but a friend”.

Bill Clinton holds hands with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as they attend an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement
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George Bush admitted he knew little about global affairs

George W Bush admitted he knew little about international affairs at his first meeting with Britain’s ambassador to the US.

Mr Bush’s presidency was dominated by military action in Iraq and Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001.

But when UK envoy Sir Christopher Meyer sat down with Mr Bush in February 1998 as he plotted a run for the White House, he found a politician whose world view was largely limited to “Texan and Mexican horizons”.

“Bush admitted that, apart from Mexico, he did not know much about international affairs and that he would do well to broaden his experience,” Sir Christopher wrote in his report of the encounter.

Mr Bush, who went on to form a close partnership with Tony Blair, thought the newly-installed Prime Minister “seemed to be ‘a good fellow’”, according to Sir Christopher.

Blair’s aides feared ‘sleaze’ was hitting his ‘moral authority’

Tony Blair’s aides feared his New Labour government was losing “moral authority” after it was hit by a slew of “sleaze” allegations.

Papers show his advisers were so concerned they considered creating a “commissioner for ministerial ethics” in an attempt to restore public trust.

Within months of sweeping to power in the 1997 general election, the Government was hit by a series of damaging headlines regarding the conduct of ministers which threatened to take the shine of its victory.

They included the £650,000 refurbishment of the Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine’s official flat, a £1million donation from Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, and ministers taking their partners on official overseas visits.

In a note to the then Prime Minister dated February 17 1998, his chief of staff Jonathan Powell noted: “We have tried to think of possible initiatives that would get us out of the mess but all of them have pretty substantial downsides.

“We could mount ‘operation humility’.”

In April, Mr Powell warned the PM: “We believe that we have a serious problem that the perception of sleaze has gone deep into the public consciousness and that only a fairly major step will begin to reverse the current climate.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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