Wednesday, June 27, 2007


So, farewell then. I am not now (nor have I ever been...) a fan of Tony Blair, although I'd like to think that despite my own leanings, I can still give him a fair crack of the whip.

One thing I certainly recognise is his skill as a communicator. He is without doubt a class act and I've felt that ever since I saw him on TV deliver his first speech to the Labour conference as party leader in 1994. One of the things I remember from that speech, besides the spellbinding delivery, was the promise of 'a laptop computer for every school pupil'.

13 years on, it still hasn't happened, which means that a child starting Primary 1 when he made that speech will now be thinking about University (and the debts which follow), but won't have typed a single essay on it on their way there. While trivial in itself, it sounded like a cheap gimmick at the time it was promised. Subsequent failure to deliver or even mention it again led me early on to take a sceptical view of Blair and what I see as his tendency to say whatever sounds good when it suits him to do so.

I would say that if you look to his record up until about 2003, it is one of which he can be quite proud. Minimum wage, Bank of England independence, the most radical constitutional reforms since 1832... had he gone then, six years into his Premiership, I reckon history would have been exceptionally kind to him. But he didn't, and now he will now be remembered primarily for the poor prosecution of the campaigns in Afghanistan and, more seriously, Iraq.

I find it disappointing that he continues to deny that our actions in Iraq have made the world more dangerous, when we now know that this opinion is not shared even by analysts in the CIA and MOD. He resorts instead to saying "This terrorism isn't our fault. We didn't cause it". While that is true, it's also a straw man.

The accusation from his critics is that his actions in Iraq have made things worse, not that it was this which triggered the global terrorist threat. To solve a problem you have to recognise first that it exists. It seems to me that whatever views we might have about the sagacity of the Iraq invasion, Blair serves no-one but himself by attempting to deny the part he has played in taking Iraq to its current perilous position.

And that for me sums up Blair. Eloquent and charming he may be, but all too often he resorted to saying whatever was convenient, or made little verbal malversations, which when exposed we were expected to overlook on the grounds that he was a 'pretty straight sort of guy' who always had our best interests at heart.

He seemed able to convince himself that something was true, even when it was not, then persuade others with utmost sincerity that this was in fact the case. The warning signs were there early in his leadership, with a claim he made on the Des O'Connor show on ITV (which I remember watching) that he ran away from school and stowed away on a flight to the Bahamas at Newcastle Airport. This despite the fact that no airline has ever run any such service from there!

He also had an alarming tendency to try and polarise people into making false 'either or' choices. Or making a pretence at acknowledging legitimate difference, before asserting that his way was correct, simply because he believed it was the 'right thing to do'. I have never been comfortable with his intolerance for his critics, or of his need to always be seen as the strong man. The obsessions with novelty, his apparent need always to have an enemy to battle against and his inability (even by politicians' standards) to admit either error or fallibility, made me deeply uncomfortable. For that reason, I can't say I'll be very sorry to see him depart.

It could have been very different. I remember the Saturday after Labour won in 1997, my heart lifting when John Prescott appeared in the box at the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final with the fans singing 'Abide With Me' - something which was a big event for the North of England, and here it was getting the prominence it deserved in national life. I also remember my heart sinking again fairly quickly when the new health secretary (Tessa Jowell?) held a photo opportunity on the following Monday to show us all how to wash our hands... sadly, that seemed to set the tone for a 'we know best' style of government which in retrospect, Blair was the perfect man to front.

1 comment:

Noman Tahir said...

Seeing as you're coming down to wesminster.. i think you should familiarise yourself with some of the MPs....