I would like to start off by stating a fact. Tony Blair is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He is not the head of state. He is not a president.
I am starting thus, not to enlighten my American readers (I flatter myself but my American readers are way too intelligent not to already be totally aware of this fact!) but rather to ground what I am to write in that fact. The press in the UK and the world are acting as if Blair is a president who is resigning. The level and degree of attention are completely in line with a presidential farewell.
The UK has no president. We have the Queen as our head of state. She is a figure head who firmly stays out of politics. We have a prime minister who is the leader of the ruling party of government. For the past ten years that has been New Labour and their leader has been Tony Blair. I have always thought this system to be a good one in theory. Good because no prime minister could get infected by a God complex and would always be kept in check by their party.
This theory worked to a degree. It worked until Margaret Thatcher. She changed things. She ruled by crushing her opposition. She was elected on the promise to put the "Great" back into Great Britain. So she attended international meetings as if Britain still ruled the waves and the world and bullied other leaders into place with her infamous handbag. Thatcher showed that given the right circumstances and leader, a God complex was indeed a possibility for a British Prime Minister.
This was the political culture that Tony Blair inherited. It is the form that he so quickly took. He quickly forgot that one of the main reasons for the 1997 landslide victory for New Labour (N.B. New Labour not Tony Blair) was that the country wished to be delivered from the ruling hegemony of Thatcherism. The UK was asking for deliverance from a political policy dictated by one prominent ruling figure (John Major was a last gasp demonstrating how corrupt, embittered and pathetic the Tory party had become).
I voted for New Labour in 1997. I celebrated all night with my fellow students. I went to so many flats in Edinburgh where everyone was on a complete high. The clouds had parted and the sun was finally shining.
I remember discussing Tony. He seemed like a family man, a Christian - one of those who see their religious beliefs driving them to do good for the less fortunate in this world. We discussed all the wonderful people who would be forming the new government - John Prescott, Robin Cook, Jack Straw, and the wonderful gusty, leftist, Clare Short. Yes, we saw all the spin doctors following Blair at every step but we put that down to "whatever you have to do to get elected" and after the hell the country had been through, the hell that was my only experience of political life in the UK, we were OK with the concept of "whatever it takes". Everything looked rosy and possible.
2007. The UK is a better place to live for a great many than it was in 1997. The NHS is better funded, education is better funded, the poor are better taken care of and the economy has been strong as an ox for ten years. New Labour have under Blair managed a great deal of success.
So why all the cheering for Blair's departure? Should this post be about how the UK will go to the dogs without Blair and everything is doomed?
Blair over ten years has embodied the much quoted saying "Power corrupts and Absolute Power corrupts Absolutely". He took his inheritance from Thatcher and wore the presidential pretender badge with pride.
He charmed the world. He and Clinton were great buddies. Both can charm the socks off a centipede and they know how to play the game of media spin. But they both had a certain grounding. I do believe they both saw it as their responsibility to improve people's lives - but only on the "down low". Neither wanted to offend anyone with a large bank balance. Instead they courted them. But while the rich weren't looking they quietly improved the situation for the poor around the world (Africa for example) and fought for injustices where they found them (Kosovo).
I believe that Blair with Clinton by his side had a degree of sincerity and maturity which enabled the two of them to use the "special" relationship between the US and UK to better ends. Northern Ireland is now a country at peace because of the brave steps they took. Collecting debt repayments from poor African countries became something to be ashamed of and concern that we may be harming our own environment became something that was accepted.
Until 2001 I believe Tony Blair was doing a good job. Perfect? No. But good. I didn't like the media hype and spin that followed him around like a bad smell but I felt proud of my little country.
I think the point of Blair's undoing, the seed of his unpopularity in the UK, the moment he changed from Blair to BLIAR was when the supreme court gave the US presidential election to George W Bush. Bush and his cronies have poisoned America. So many people are angry with him. So many people are so sad at what the American nation has become. He slipped into the presidency like a snake. His residence at the White House has felt like a bad dream.
When I witnessed Blair befriending Bush I thought it a bit odd. I presumed, along with others, that Blair, being from a center-left party, would have little in common with Bush and that there may likely be some conflict between the two men.
Then September 11th happened and everyone in America "rallied around the President for the sake of the country" (I didn't see the need to rally round him, more ask questions of how this could happen on his watch - but that's another post). Blair said some eloquent things. He sounded like the serious leader speaking with reason and judgement. He wasn't going to shout about 'smoking anyone out of a hole'.
Ah ha, I thought this is why Blair had befriended Bush. He would be the voice of reason guiding this snake away from creating harm in the world. He would appear the lapdog but really be the sheepdog guiding things from behind the scenes.
I forgot, we all forgot in Britain about Tony's religion. It wasn't reason, or the political guidance of the world's superpower that steered Blair to Bush but rather their religious convictions. I believe that one major reason that the US and UK are in Iraq right now if because of the shared belief that these two men have that rescuing this country from Saddam is the just and right thing to do in the eyes of God. Whether it is conscious or not the whole thing smacks of the crusades. Bush also had God put in a word for him to make a huge amount of cash out of the project - Tony on the other hand was just happy being right.
This is the point when Blair went off the boil in the UK. I was in Scotland for the first part of 2003 and I remember watching the BBC news reports that showed that they were considering taking action against Saddam. I remember thinking they've got to be crazy, what does Saddam have to do with Al Qaeda? I remember rubbing my eyes in disbelief as they started trotting out "evidence" of why we should invade Iraq.
I wasn't the only one rubbing my eyes. The whole of the UK was in jaw dropping disbelief. Where was the Blair we elected? Where was the Labour Party, all be it "New" and shiny? I naively believed that the leftist MPs in the Labour party would keep this kind of thing in check. I was wrong.
Blair has created a structure of power within the New Labour Party where he governs in the mold of the politburo of Stalin's Soviet Union. There are circles of power with him at the center controlling everything. My friends and I have always been amazed that every cabinet reshuffle changes the names of the cabinet ministers but everything remains exactly the same.
Blair has taken the God complex from Thatcher to a whole new level. He had the nerve to take a country to war kicking and screaming. He ignored mass protest by the electorate who voted him in. He was no longer representing the people. He was representing himself. The whole Iraq fiasco has felt like a deep betrayal to the UK people. Instead of listening to the country, Blair decided to 'do what was good for us' as if we were an incapable child.
It does not feel good that the Iraq war has been such a disaster. It does not feel good to know that my gut instinct watching the BBC news in 2003 was correct. It does not feel good to know that Blair and Bush were wrong.
This is why Blair is deeply unpopular in the UK. It makes me angry that after what he has dragged us through in Iraq he can give a sugar coated, slick press conference full of emotion to announce the date of his resignation (the date - not his actual resigning like Harold Wilson did). All his pomp and circumstance being drawn out over his long farewell are sickening. There has been no apology over Iraq only carefully drafted spin that hints at it. Blair said in his "farewell" speech
"Removing Saddam and his sons from power, as with removing the Taliban, was over with relative ease. But the blowback since, from Global Terrorism and those elements that support it, has been fierce and unrelenting and costly."
This is no apology and his careful referencing of the Taliban and Saddam together shows his continuing adherence to the Bush doctrine of invading Iraq under the auspices of his "War on Terror". Blair shows that he does not believe him to have been wrong only those pesky terrorists who keep popping up like a hydra.
I am glad Blair is going. It has taken him a long time to go. He claims he is going for the good of the country. He is going because his party is forcing him to. He is going out like a victor in blaze of glory but behind all the fireworks and staged crowds the UK knows this charmer for who he really is. He is a snake in the same mold as George W Bush.