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

Page 7 of 17

Tony Blair is the most mysterious Prime Minister in British history. He is also the most actor-like. He out-Macmillans Harold Macmillan. He is almost certainly the most duplicitous, and the one least committed to telling "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth". As John Cole, the veteran political commentator, has remarked on this subject, the "whole truth" part is the hardest to obey. It is the part in which Mr Blair seems most deficient.

Blair and post modern "truth"
One of his lines of defence was at one point, "I only know what I believe". Another was, as Wheatcroft reminds us, "I may be wrong, but that is what I believe". And then there is the often repeated view that Tony Blair does not understand that things do not become true or good merely by his believing them to be so. Even less can a thing be made to happen by his merely wishing it so, as he admitted ruefully to a House of Commons select committee in July 2002. [[5]] Wheatcroft reminds us that the novelist Doris Lessing usefully noted: "He believes in magic. If you say a thing, it's true. I think he's not very bright in some ways".

This all matters because most politicians have traditionally justified policy on the grounds that it can be demonstrated to make objective sense or because it is too popular not to be done. In Messiah Politics, however, the leader's own beliefs are paramount, however at variance with objective reality or - if push comes to shove - popularity.

Blair's Age of Aquarius
Should we distrust him the most when he declares himself to care the most? Is not this matter of "caring" always an area where we suspect cant? Are we not doubly suspicious when we hear it from a man who, we suspect, hardly knows what the truth is, and cares even less? In two 2006 chapters (The Evolution of Messiah Politics, and Modern Messiahs) I tried to tie Blair's personal background with that of his Age of Aquarius generation in which passion matters more than reason. "All you need is love" is their underlying creed, along with, "Make love, not war". This has been an age in which passion excused most things, and absence of passion condemned reasonableness. It is some comfort that we deserved Blair: he didn't foist himself on us. British politics was waiting for a Blair when he came along. Figuring his tendencies as generational and cultural somewhat excuses him. He wasn't to blame for the zeitgeist which formed him and which he read so well.

The Camelot Factor
Glamour is charisma for the televisual age. Blair had it to a degree. In the 2006 chapter The Camelot Factor, I take a look at the emergence of this new politics. The most interesting peculiarity is perhaps that John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton are much more obvious precursors of the Blair phenomenon than, say President Ronald Reagan. One could put it this way: Reagan was a straight-up ham actor who became a straight-up politician. Clinton and Blair, though, inhabited their new roles. They were, as it were, Method actors. They weren't mere dissemblers or posers, one suspects. They were the first to believe their own publicity.

No-one has achieved the holy grail of politics: no-one has become a John F Kennedy. It may be that no-one can recreate the naivety of the oh-so-knowing 60s. Then again, Kennedy was mythologised as a dead man, and was a leader who did not have time to become tarnished in his lifetime. Blair, on the contrary, began on an amazing and unsustainable high and stayed on long enough to peter out. And we need to remember that Kennedy achieved rather little, beyond starting the Vietnam War. Had he lived, he would have attracted the opprobrium of the liberals who went on to adore him, just as Blair has done.

A taste of the Conclusion
My new 2007 Conclusion looks at the future of Mr Blair's Messiah Politics. It argues that some of the tackiness of Mr Blair's style may continue. We can expect his successors to give us a good deal of guff on Africa and climate change. We may confidently expect tasteless parading of consciences. But where Blair was bold - in supporting President Bush - we will probably see rather more timidity. Very importantly, Mr Blair's successors are likely to claim that they would like to govern in a more old-fashioned way. Let's hope so.


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