Twenty years on: The shadow of Tony Blair
Monday 21st July 2014
It is 20 years since he took the helm of the Labour Party. JOHN ELLISON surveys his toxic legacy as a cheerleader for war
Ex-Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, notoriously, is a very rich man. He is also an adviser to various Middle Eastern and central Asian dictators, while pursuing a formal Quartet role as “Middle East peace envoy,” a grotesque misnomer in which his support for Israel’s decades-long violent denial of a Palestinian state is half-camouflaged by code words such as “restraint by both sides please.”
He has shrugged off the flagrant conflict of interest between his advisory and ambassadorial functions despite mounting condemnation, while performing extra tricks as a self-appointed spokesperson-and-egger-on-extraordinary for Western imperialism.
Twenty years ago, on July 21 1994, he was elected as the fresh faced leader of a “modernising” Labour Party. Prime minister from May 1997, he resigned 10 years later, after much reluctance, in favour of chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown. His role as deceiver-in-chief in the run-up to the Iraq war, in which he used the dodgy dossier on Iraq’s non-existent WMDs to provide a sham justification for war, has seen him long since renamed as “Bliar.”
His interminable memoir A Journey (2010), much seen these days in charity shops, is notable for superficiality and self-justification. It is awash with gushing rhetoric and an ego-riding high. He declares brashly at the outset: “I won three general elections,” then mentions in passing the role of others “who felt the same as I do,” as if Labour’s voters were universally mesmerised by the personality and policies of the party’s leader.
Blair suffered from long-term envy of the very-rich-club. His ambition was, consciously or not, to achieve political prominence on that club’s behalf. The big pay-off would come later. As it has done in buckets.
His notion of God — in whom he devoutly believes — must be of a superior being comfortable with Blair’s notions of Christian ethics, such as vast inequality between the rich and the poor, Western control of the oil and gas of the Middle East, acquiescence in Israel’s denial of the rights of Palestinians, close friendship with the Islamist fundamentalist ruling family of Saudi Arabia, illegal wars and a global free-fire zone for multinational banks and drone missiles.
Son of a lawyer father with Conservative political ambitions thwarted by a major stroke, educated at a public school and gaining a law degree at Oxford — with acting skills acquired en route — Blair began practice as a barrister specialising in employment law.
Having shown less interest in politics than in spiritual preoccupations, activity in Hackney’s Labour Party led to his becoming Sedgefield’s Labour MP in 1983. His July 1982 letter to then Labour leader Michael Foot, explaining that he had come to socialism via Karl Marx, was a primitive piece of flattery to deceive, flattery to achieve.
One biographer, John Rentoul, described early-days Blair as “clearly ambitious,” while avoiding “giving the impression of being self-promoting.” Another, Anthony Seldon, tells us that, after 1987, Blair “began to court friends,” fulsomely praising the maiden speeches of new Labour MPs and building contacts “in business and the City.”
Thriving under the leadership of Neil Kinnock, who, as Seldon wrote, “repositioned Labour into accepting the free-market system,” Blair made friends with media personnel including Daily Mirror political editor Alastair Campbell to whom, notes Campbell’s biographer Peter Oborne, Blair as a junior shadow minister was “appropriately deferential.”
At first he was Gordon Brown’s junior, then his equal in status. After John Smith’s death, he carried the day in July 1994 as leader with 57 per cent of the vote. Blair aimed at a “new Labour” government which embraced the City of London and the media armies of Rupert Murdoch and others, supported by an unprecedentedly public relations campaign.
During the 1990s, following the first Gulf war, the US and Britain applied a monstrous sanctions policy against Iraq, denying its population clean water among other essentials.
In September 1996, when John Major meekly joined US president Bill Clinton in ordering air strikes against Iraq in retaliation for Iraqi attacks on Kurdish areas, Blair whipped his shadow cabinet into support.
In May 1997 new Labour — in Blair’s preposterous words “the party of one-nation radicals” — arrived as a party of government.
The first time Blair called British aircraft into action alongside the US was in December 1998. Four days of illegal air strikes on Iraq were directed by Clinton — against “weapons of mass destruction” targets years after Iraq’s WMD programmes had been abandoned.
Clinton’s defence secretary William Cohen concluded that Blair “was going to be with the United States come hell or high water, he was going to be there.”
Andrew Rawnsley’s meticulously informative book about new Labour, The End of the Party, described Blair as “the most accomplished communicator of his era.” Among mainstream politicians he was a remarkably polished operator — personable, articulate, exuding sincerity — qualified by a trademark blandness and tendencies to abuse the truth, distort the issue and dodge the difficult.
Rawnsley’s admiration also ignored the extent to which Blair was guarded by the invisible barriers to real challenge erected by the Establishment-run media.
Face-to-face interviews by left-wing journalists were decidedly not on offer, while Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons gave no scope for putting the well-prepared Blair more than momentarily on the spot. On rare, accidental occasions his grinning flow was stopped in its tracks by ordinary people outside the protected political-media zone. But truth will out.
Over four years from 1999 to 2003 the US with Blair-commanded British support applied military power in three countries with horrific human consequences.
First, in spring 1999, illegal Nato bombing devastated Serbia, whose nationalist government had been attempting to suppress, brutally enough, the independence movement of the province of Kosovo. This breakaway movement was led by al-Qaida-linked KLA guerillas. Nonetheless they were covertly receiving training and arms from Britain.
Falsely Blair told the Commons on April 13, during the bombing allegedly intended to prevent ethnic cleansing which in fact it accelerated, that Britain was not in favour of providing such support.
Next, in late 2001, the US-British revenge bombing of Afghanistan for the New York September 11 al-Qaida atrocity replaced a Taliban government with corrupt warlords. This aggression disregarded the uncomfortable reality that most of the suicide killers were from Saudi Arabia.
Then in spring 2003 the US invaded Iraq — illegally — and justified it with massively spiced-up intelligence evidence of alleged threats to other countries.
More than a decade later tragic repercussions from all this criminal savagery, augmented by occupations and more war, roll on inexorably.
Blair’s lies over Iraq ranged from the suppression of facts to explicit mutations of intelligence. He withheld information from members of his own Cabinet. He pretended to Parliament and the nation for many months to have no final position over support for Bush’s planned invasion while having privately promised British participation. One confidential Blair note to Bush in July 2002 began: “You know George, whatever you decide to do, I’m with you.”
Blair’s crimes and lies were punished by his plummeting popularity, offset by rewards from the world’s elite. Learning nothing from the bloody failures of US imperial missions, he is defined as a war-monger as much as a “moderniser,” as a deputy sheriff for presidents Clinton and Bush as much as a prime minister of Britain and more of a criminal than a Christian.
Ed Miliband has cautiously distanced himself from Blair and Blairism but, crucially, Blairites are still inside the tent and warning of doom unless the party leader follows their icon’s failed formulas. It’s not at all clear whether Labour can finally shake off the ghosts of the toxic former prime minister.
WARMONGERING former Prime Minister Tony Blair joked about his wealth as he advised Labour to operate from the “centre ground” yesterday. The multimillionaire warmonger declared: “Reports of my wealth are greatly exaggerated.” He breezily announced that his real wealth was closer to £20 million than the £100m suggested in some newspapers: here.