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

Page 16 of 17

I hope I have persuaded you (both in the 2006 book and this 2007 update) that there is "Blairism", and it is his Messiah Politics. Tony Blair is one third moralist and one third actor - a situation which leaves only a third for the demanding practical business of being a serious Prime Minister.

This book is concerned with how Tony Blair gained, deployed and kept power. It is about a vacuous man who turned out to have an extraordinary steeliness. It is of course also about a man who was remarkably free of anything like ideas or ideology but who toyed with several large themes before becoming, in one area alone, extraordinarily bold and doctrinaire in his actions. So it is about the oddity at the heart of Blair's premiership: in foreign affairs, where he showed leadership and courage, he not only abused democracy the most, but committed what nearly everyone thinks is a colossal blunder.

Most of it was pure guff. Mr Blair has presented us with several versions of his destiny. He has seemed to believe in magic. He never perhaps understood and much too late told us about the strict limits to his capacity to modernise Britain, to transform the welfare state (let alone anything so humble as manage it), to solve climate change or enrich Africa. And yet - and here is the crucial mystery - in one area, foreign affairs, this strange man conceived a worldview even more giddy in its goals, and requiring real brutality, and in this one area he has been unflinching. Bold, brave and - most say - also unsuccessful. Very messianic, indeed. To complete the picture, only a martyrdom is required. But Blair hasn't been made to pay for what are widely seen to be his mistakes.

I meant to convey a sense of what Blair has done to the office he held, and its relations with the rest of government. That's to say, of course, that he has to a remarkable degree made government depend on his vision, energy, style and management. He has bypassed Parliament, the Cabinet and Whitehall and put in their place a febrile process of Sofa Government with special emphasis on the merit of managing The Message.

It is legacy time for Mr Blair and he seems in early 2007 to have messed it up. He has backed away, probably wisely, from the kind of rhetoric he once deployed on Africa and climate change. Had he left in early 2006, it would have been on a high, with only the Iraq war as a serious blight. If he had admitted failure there, he might even have manufactured quite a satisfactory martyrdom, and that would play nicely to his Messiah Politics. Instead, he seems quite inscrutable on this most important issue. He may believe he did well and it may be that events will justify him. At its giddiest, Messiah Politics may yet play well for Mr Blair's reputation.

Right now, though, the Bush/Blair Iraq policy is generally perceived to have been a disaster. Miraculously, there is little incentive for the major political players to punish Mr Blair over Iraq, whatever their inclinations. Gordon Brown's camp is even more implicated in the policy than the Tory leadership. The opposition to the war by the Lib Dems rather proves the point, too, that it is very seldom easy politics to criticise British military action once it's afoot.


Will anyone inherit Messiah Politics?
The question, after a decade of Tony Blair's premiership, is whether he has been a one-off and a warning or - on the other hand - merely modern and an example?

Will anyone ever again display and deploy loftiness of ambition on the Blair scale? Will anyone seek to be so powerful and powerfully transformative? I am inclined to doubt it. Blair spectacularly failed in almost everything grand that he tried to do. Afghanistan and Iraq remain an open book, but hardly anyone thinks these cases offer encouragement to the bravest sort of interventionist ambition. Probably the US and certainly the UK will aim to be less lonely in their actions. What's more, the leaders of these countries are far more likely to seek consensus cover for their actions than did Bush or Blair. And without loneliness, there is no Messiah Politics.

We are not likely to see a repeat of Messiah Politics at their most extraordinary. But there is much in their day to day operation which could remain, and be very bad.

Let's take the business of the personal and politics. We might begin with how politicians who aspire to the leadership now have to be interesting and attractive as private human beings. We want public figures to show their soul. They must be capable of being celebrities, and like soap stars.

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