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

Page 3 of 17


A note on organisation

This pamphlet is an updated and revised second edition of three chapters of my 2006 book Mr Blair's Messiah Politics: Or what happened when Bambi tried to save the world (SAU). It replaces the 2006 Introduction, the 2006 chapterMessiah Politics in practice, and the 2006 Conclusion.

I have given the pamphlet a new subtitle: "A story of inspired government, 1997-2007. Irony (or is it sarcasm?) is a tricky ploy in titles. Still, I want to convey that this book is essentially about Tony Blair's politics - the way he got and used power. These pages focus much less on the merits of Blair's policies than on their inspiration and the "coup" by which he delivered them (or not).

The new Introduction takes account of events since 2005 but often refers to chapters in the previous 2006 book and is a guide to them. The new Conclusion discusses Blair's legacy rather than his reputation. That's to say, it discusses whether Blair's Messiah Politics will be inherited by, say Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

I rewrote the 2006 chapter Messiah Politics in practice because it covered Blair's work on Africa, climate change, and his anti-terror wars and these have all moved on dramatically since 2005.


My reading of Tony Blair is an uncommon one. I see the trajectory of his career as having been upward. I am inclined to think that being Prime Minister was character-forming for Mr Blair. I loathed everything he stood for when he came into office in 1997, but ten years later I find a good deal to admire.

There is much to dislike about Mr Blair's Messiah Politics, but they also helped him become admirable.

Mr Blair's Messiah Politics defined
There is Blairism, and it is Mr Blair's Messiah Politics. Tony Blair was a uniquely inspired leader: his sources of inspiration mattered to him, and he was capable of inspiring others. As I discussed in the 2006 chapters The evolution of Messiah Politics and The Blair narrative, his biographers testify that he discovered religion at Oxford, and that it took a political - an activist - form. A brilliant telegenic operator, Blair developed a politics whose main characteristic was manipulative loftiness. He was not quite a Baby Boomer or one of Thatcher's Children, but he had elements of both. He wanted to change the world for the better, and be seen as the person who made the transformation. These desires made him grab much more power than any previous Prime Minister has wielded. As the former Head of the Civil Service and Cabinet Secretary, Lord (Richard) Wilson told BBC Radio 4's Shape Up, Sir Humphrey, in March 2007: "New Labour ... staged a coup first of all against the Labour Party and then against the processes of government." [Link] That is a remarkable testimony to the power of Messiah Politics. Oddly, as we shall see, it contributed to Blair's only claim to greatness.

The path from 1997 to 2007
Back in 1997, I thought Tony Blair's endless spin-doctoring - the gap between perception and reality - would sink his premiership. It didn't, altogether. It seems much more that he simply ran out of steam, or popular esteem. Sleaze, mis-spent taxes, and the contempt which familiarity has wrought, have all taken their toll.

But his hallmark Messiah Politics didn't scupper him, either. That's true even if you count the effects of the second Iraq War. We'll come to that, of course.

The conundrum remains: how did this vacuous post-Baby Boomer become a rather admirable - at any rate a stubborn - warrior? Peter Hennessy, who knows British government better than anyone, remarked to Michael Cockerell for the latter's March 2007 BBC2 series Blair: The Inside Story, that "destiny is knocking on the door every day for Tony Blair". It was a telling jibe at a politician who cares about his own grand role in history's unfolding, and it also implies - rightly - that Blair has spotted several destinies in a rather promiscuous way. For Geoffrey Wheatcroft, in his lively polemic Yo, Blair!, Blair was - is - a half-mad liar and a criminal who runs a junta from Downing Street. His account and mine could not be more different in tone or purpose. [[1]]

Not that I celebrate very much of Blair. I think he was a mistake we shouldn't have made. He has somewhat redeemed himself, but in the oddest way.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Blair's religion and his idealism combined with his deep desire to be a historic figure to produce an all but incredible effect. Blair's militarism, and especially the Second Iraq War - the war against terror - was the apogee of a career which otherwise looked as though it was doomed to failure. I have especially enjoyed the way the vast number of dreamers who fell in love with Blair in 1997 have now abandoned him. Meanwhile, within the minority who always thought he was a humbug there is a minute cadre who have at last found some merit in him. I am part of that small crew. It all makes an amazing story and I find it hard not be drawn to the man who was at the heart of it.

This book looks at the career of a man who seemed at first to be all style and no substance, and then turned out to be substantial in the most unexpected ways. I hope I have useful things to say about that. However I claim to be most valuable in my account of the way Tony Blair governed, and how the business of conducting government was strongly influenced both by his style and what turned out to be his substance.

So I hope this is a book which will be read not merely by Blair-obsessives, but by anyone interested in modern government. It is intended to fill the gap which is left even when one has read other books on Blair, and watched - say - Michael Cockerell's series on his premiership. What's more, I hope it will be of interest to those who wonder if Blair's style is simply a matter of what modern politicians have to be like. My new Conclusion, especially, addresses that.

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