Approaching the end of his term, Tony Blair is well practised at seeing off his most vicious attackers. But while deflecting his enemies may come easy, Blair has less experience of being damned with praise — especially the un-faint kind.
In a guest comment piece written for our American sister site News.com, Cisco chief executive John Chambers outlines why Blair's recent visit to Silicon Valley was an excellent example of the PM's foresight when it comes to technology. Blair gets technology like few other world leaders, purrs Chambers.
The Cisco boss, or whoever from the company or Number 10 ghost-wrote this sycophantic soliloquy, obviously intended the piece to be a pat on the back for a PM he sees as widely admired. Unfortunately, while Blair's eloquence and loyalty has earned him plenty of fans in the States, back home his unique way with technology is not going to see many statues erected.
"Blair is a busy man, but not too busy to ever lose sight of the fact that the future of Britain is based on its ability to educate and to lead," says Chambers. Blair may not be too busy to lose sight of the future, but he freely admits to having neither the time nor inclination to bother with technology himself. In a rare demonstration of candour last year, Blair gave a straight answer "Yes" to the straight question: "Are you a technophobe?".
Chambers also used the NHS IT upgrade to show why Blair's government "gets IT". Anyone remotely familiar with the debacle would have steered well clear. Despite a curiously positive report from the National Audit Office (NAO), the NHS scheme is more than £6bn over budget and heavily criticised for poor management and even accounting irregularities.
The Cisco boss plants another poison kiss in the shape of education: "Our approach to how we educate our youth, however, must also be reconsidered, which is why England's 'Building Schools of the Future' program is a critical investment in the future". But the government agency charged with promoting the use of IT in schools has admitted that the UK's digital infrastructure needs improvement and investment, while the Government's poor support of open source software says more about Blair's fondness for big business and powerful people than it does for his strategic vision.
If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. With this Government's record on technology, even whispering sweet nothings can cut to the quick.