This week, Tony Blair has done a round of press, announcing that he wants to re-enter British politics. Sort of. Not frontline politics, for as he says, “there are elements of the media who would literally move to destroy mode if I tried to do that”. While he has a point about the media, that isn’t the chief obstacle to Blair becoming active in frontline politics again – rather it’s how vilified he is by the Left, and given he was a Labour prime minister, the Right isn’t about to give him a break either.
I’ve reflected a lot about Blair over the last year. Back when he was PM, I was not a fan of his to say the least. Yet I now look back on why I disliked him as prime minister with a touch of confusion and regret. Yes, Iraq was a bad idea and the civil liberties crack down was ill-thought out, but think for a moment how much better his premiership was than anything that followed. I think that most of my dislike of Blair at the time was that I was living in a Francis Fukuyama wonderland, a post-history idea of the universe in which I thought surely anyone who was prime minister at that time, the early years of the 21st century, could do better. I now understand just how wrong I was about this: Blair actually did a lot of amazing things and it was him, not the era magically doing it somehow. Also, just as importantly, we didn’t do a lot of silly things when he was in charge that we have done since.
It is worth noting how much more vilified by the Left Blair is when compared to the Right. Lefties will claim this is because he was right-wing, but this misses an important point: while the Left tend to be openly disappointed towards their leaders and in time disown almost all of them, the Right never makes this mistake.
Think of right-wing leaders down through the ages. Ronald Reagan was an astoundingly awful president, and I mean that by a right-wing yardstick as well. He was the president who let the American national debt spiral out of control and most of the economic problems the US still have are a direct result of his terrible presidency. And yet this is never acknowledged by the Right even slightly; they have all but beatified the guy. Or think of George W Bush and all his errors. Doesn’t matter: the Right always look out and stand up for their own.
Meanwhile, left-wing leaders are at best passed over as well-meaning disappointments, a la Obama. It is rare for any left-wing leader to be historically praised by the Left – unless that leader was a total failure, and then the Left has a place in its heart for loveable losers. But anyone who ever took serious office has doomed their legacy with the Left from Day One.
For all you Blair bashers out there: he may genuinely, for the short term at least, be the centre-left’s only hope. Now you can decry the fact that this is what it has come to, but that is what it has come to. He’s got the experience, the money, the contacts and the will to make it happen in a way probably no one else does. I genuinely can’t think of another figure who combines those four qualities on the British centre-left: some have the money and the will, but no experience or contacts; some have the money and the experience, but not the will. Blair is it, centrists, whether you like it or not. Think before you leap to demonise him again and ask yourselves this: who am I more against, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump – or Tony Blair? It may become the question that defines the era in which we live.
When I was asked about my political allegiance in 1999 I replied ‘disillusioned New Labour’. The response from a former Labour minister was a lecture on the realities of power – of the kind that Obama is honing right now.
It worked in that I tended to pay closer attention to the obstacles to putting policy intent into practice. Through that I had sharper appreciation of the mad rush to evaluation for evidence of positive policy effects: this was a government facing a battle of credibility with a hostile media ready in the wings. The mantra ‘tough on crime tough on causes’ captured the problem well. It would be easy to pick out the emphasis on ASB as an example of intolerance and to miss the highly significant influence of Surestart. From my perspective Surestart was a gem of a programme that delivered on causes.
Of course I would have been happier if Labour had taken control of the railways and had the good sense to spot the problems of immigration and impose more controls on migration from the new EU member states. It is easy to see the mistakes of Iraq but I have Kurdish friends so I could see good reason in the case for war. Blair is right to point to the wider context: the Arab Spring was coming, the regional instability is complex and should not simply be dropped on Blair’s toes… Blair may have flaws but he is not the monster the right wing press and left wing zealots portray. Like all politicians he made mistakes but as you say, compared with the likes of Trump and Farage he seems well balanced and caring.
I agree with almost everything you say here. As a centrist who is wondering where the centre ground has gone over the last year or so, with the Tories moving right and Labour becoming an extreme-left communist shambles, I, for one, am pleased that Blair might be returning to politics. There’s definitely a space to be occupied by him on the centre left at the moment.
Those on the far left are just not pragmatic enough in this political climate to offer up any credible alternatives to the increasingly right-wing rethoric of pretty much everyone in politics, or so it seems.
I’d never really thought about the right standing up for their heroes before, but you’re exactly right, they do.
Ba'al Zevul says
All that must be very comforting to the centre-left, or, as it would have been described three decades ago, the moderately hard right. And Blair has always been a stalking-horse for the global financiers who would dearly love national politics to evaporate, and whose usurpation of democratic government Blair not only facilitated but encouraged. Today an astonished audience heard John Major, joining the Blair claque, as he did to unknown effect in Northern Ireland just before the referendum, announcing that the Brexit vote amounted to “the tyranny of the majority”…thus dismissing the validity of the elections that put him and Blair in power, presumably. Has the centre-left no conception of irony?
What I voted for, on the very clear understanding that a democratic majority is a democratic majority (where’s Blair when it comes to asking for a rerun of the Scottish independence referendum, I wonder?), was an end to foreign control and infiltration of my country – you know, the one that takes 40% of my earnings in overt and covert taxation – and an alternative to an economy based on speculation and usury. I didn’t vote for the centre-left, and a majority of my fellow-citizens didn’t either. At both ends of the political spectrum, we voted for a shakeout, and decent burial of the zombie politics of Blair, Cameron and their self-serving associates. So please don’t delude yourselves.
It is simply Iraq. We may moan about this and that and there was a lot I disliked about his style, but this is insignificant compared to an unprovoked invasion of another country. Perhaps Anthony Eden had many laudable attributes, but his epitaph is Suez. Do the Right rehabilitate him?
Similarly Cameron will be remembered for Brexit and whatever ensues. I do not expect any kind of rehabilitation.