New Internationalist

Tony Blair

Issue 362

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Worldbeaters...

Tony Blair
Job: British Prime Minister.
Reputation: Bridge over troubled Atlantic; Navigator of Third Way; Figurehead of empty vessel.

There’s a well-worn path that leads away from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament towards nuclear weapons – a ritual pilgrimage from burning youthful desire to the complacency of established political power in Britain. Tony Blair is one of many to have reached the end of this path. What makes him different is, of course, that he is the only one to have become Prime Minister.

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair was born in Edinburgh on 6 May 1953. His father, Leo, was a successful barrister who suffered a crippling stroke at the age of 42, which dashed his ambition to become a Conservative MP. Anthony was privately educated at Durham Choristers School, Fettes College and Oxford University, where he studied law. He practised as a barrister until 1983, by which time he had become Tony – and a Labour MP.

Telegenic and silver-tongued, Tony Blair’s rise was meteoric. By 1992 he was opposition spokesperson for home affairs, uttering his trademark: ‘Tough on crime! Tough on the causes of crime!’ Quickest to manoeuvre after the sudden death of his predecessor, John Smith, he became leader of the Labour Party in 1994. He set about ‘modernizing’ the party, restyling it New Labour and dismantling its founding principles in favour of ‘values’. He won the 1997 general election with a landslide. In the 2001 election he became the first Labour Prime Minister to secure a second consecutive absolute majority in Parliament.

And that’s just about it. Apart from half-baked constitutional reforms and introducing a minimum wage, Tony has done little that is distinctive and likely to endure – or that might not equally well have been done by the evaporating ‘wet’ (liberal) wing of the Conservative Party. In truth, such was the state of Tory disarray in 1997 that without Tony the British electorate might have followed the example of the citizens of São Paulo, Brazil, who once voted for an alligator.

On one score, Tony has good reason to be complacent. Orthodoxy demands strict adherence to free-market ideological norms. Tony has duly ‘delivered’ – with a clear social conscience for the resulting ‘winners’ thrown in. In fact, he’s gone further, displaying personal empathy with the inordinately powerful and wealthy, be they media barons, pop icons, motor-racing magnates or chief executive officers. This is partly in order to tap them – rather than disreputable trade unions – for Labour Party funds. And, well, fellow winners just seem to appreciate him more readily.

On almost any other score, however, the benefits of his regime are less obvious. Inequality in Britain, which grew sharply under Margaret Thatcher, has kept on growing. An unsightly, ‘excluded’ minority is being erased by a combination of financial inducements, legislative moralizing and prompt incarceration. The prison population is at record levels and rising. Official hostility to asylum seekers keeps the racist vote in tow.

Quite what ‘values’ this record displays, no-one knows. He is a devout Christian but keeps his religious views to himself. While his mentor Bill Clinton occupied the White House, Tony appeared to believe that a Third Way might exist between Right and Left. As soon as George W Bush moved in, the Third Way disappeared from Tony’s political map.

Blair is frequently characterized now as Bush’s poodle. His real pedigree is, however, much closer to that of a fully trained Rottweiler. Like all – particularly ‘wet’ – professional politicians, he is anxious not to look weak. Part of this anxiety can be dispelled by presentation and spin, or by roughing up his own party. The rest requires brute force, preferably applied at arms length. And so, from Kosovo to Sierra Leone, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Tony has rarely been out of the wars. Thousands of people in distant lands have paid with their lives for what Blair believes to be ‘right’.

In the interlude between 9/11 and the conquest of Iraq, while Blair claimed to have a moderating influence on Washington, his support gave Bush the one fig leaf he needed to realize his imperial ambitions. The ‘value’ of UN authority proved to be as dispensable as the Third Way. For the débâcle in Iraq, and an eternal ‘war on terror’, Blair carries a responsibility that is uniquely his own.

His sincerity is not in doubt. Quite the reverse. Somehow he has come to believe, with absolute conviction, in himself. So, without hard evidence, he believed that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq. Therefore, so must the hard evidence – and ample justification for war.

The distinction between ‘good’ (our) and ‘bad’ (their) weapons of mass destruction is said by the likes of Bush and Blair to depend on the kind of politician who has a finger on the trigger. In both their cases that distinction is impossible to make. The least Blair should now be advised to do is retrace his steps, back to the relative wisdom of his youth.

Sense of Humour

Waiting to ask a question at a press conference with Tony Blair, a female hack asks if the Prime Minister wants her now. ‘I want you any time,’ he says. ‘In a non-whatever sort of way.’

Joining the Labour Party rather than the Conservative Party.

Low Cunning

If infamous or not-so-famous big shots are beating up
on you, let us know at worldbeaters@newint.org

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