The Social Affairs Unit

Print Version • Website Home • Weblog Home


Use the buttons below to change the style and font size of our site.
Screen version     Print version:   

Mr Blair's Messiah Politics: A story of inspired government, 1997-2007

Page 13 of 17

Why hasn't Blair been punished?
The war was and remains very unpopular with Blair's backbenchers and many opposition MPs, to say nothing of the rest of the country. And yet one might say that he has paid a surprisingly small price in Parliament. The May 2005 general election saw his majority dented, but the rest of the year had several elements of personal triumph to compensate. Insofar as there is any desire to punish Mr Blair over Iraq, it has hinged on the way he seems to have hijacked the parliamentary process. To a remarkable degree, fewer people seem to want to punish him for the policy itself.

This may be because, to a greater degree than one might expect, people rather admire his determination to unseat Saddam Hussein. Determination on any matter can have the effect of inspiring or shaming electorates. Part of the explanation for people's tolerance of the policy may be that it is natural to be supportive of UK troops who are under fire, and that makes it awkward to be very blunt with the man who put them there. And it may even be that the London bombings of 7/7 and 21/7 of 2005 hardened the British people against Islamist terrorism, but also made them stick up for the Prime Minister. It is certainly arguable that Tony Blair ought to be punished electorally for his absurd assertion after the bombings that the Iraq war had nothing to do with them. It was wildly less than honest for him to pretend he knew one way or the other.

From Bambi to hunter
We can see the evolution of his Messiah Politics as they applied to foreigners. In 1997, Tony Blair came to power promising an "ethical dimension" to foreign policy, which was quickly popularised to something even New Labour had not promised: an Ethical Foreign Policy. It's not a phrase we hear much of nowadays, though, arguably, we have seen in Mr Blair a Prime Minister who has done, or has at least tried to do, more good in the world than any before him.

When he arrived at Number 10, he was amazingly naive. During his first month in office, he told his fellow EU leaders, "Mine is the first generation able to contemplate the possibility that we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war." [Link] As Bambi, he seems to have believed that the Tories had a rather nasty foreign policy, run by arms traders and the scions of imperialism. New Labour hoped that Britain could have a foreign policy that would encourage nice foreigners and not seek horrid old national self-interest. We would, one felt he wanted to believe, become more like Sweden, or Denmark. Modern, liked, modest.

Blair's no Tory
To those of a Tory bent, this all seemed rather unfair of New Labour. Many of us had thought the Foreign Office rather too timid, if decent. Our belief was that it was full of romantic Arabists and speakers of foreign languages who tried, on the whole, to civilise their own country at home by pointing out the complicated merits of foreign ways. We thought of Tory Foreign Secretaries such as Messrs Carrington, Hurd and Rifkind as representing the most genteel and thoughtful sort of Briton, trying to play cricket in a world that was playing polo with severed heads. They could have replied, of course, that it is they who understand the brutalities of the world, and the limits to effective action by civilised people.

Tory fastidiousness had various strands. One was a cynical matter of understanding that the British were weak and not determined and the foreigner pretty well everywhere either strong or nasty or both and often very determined. "You love life, and we love death" is an Islamist mantra and its nihilism has a ghastly force. So there was a lot of cynical realism in the Tory decency. The Tory inclination has been to be polite to foreigners, but to leave them to their own devices for fear of achieving something worse. Dictators, in this view, are often quite good for British interests. There was a hard sort of Tory who said, cynically, that we had no reason to shed blood in squabbles that couldn't do us much harm, however they turned out. But they could more nobly have claimed that, quite often, it was very hard to be sure which side the angels were on anyway. And from time to time, even modern Tories abandoned their lofty pragmatism (never an easy combination) and got militarily involved in the world (in the Falklands, in Iraq in 1991, in Bosnia in the mid-90s). Within all that, there was a widely held view that whilst the US was usually on the side of the angels, its deployment of force tended to be long-range, half-hearted, and short-lived. The aftermath of the Iraq war has emboldened the holders of this view.


Start • Previous |13 |14 |15 |16 |17 Next End