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.