Tony Blair, my political nemesis for 22 years, who did almost as much damage as Margaret Thatcher, is unrepentant. So why won’t you find me knitting beside the guillotine?
The day the Coalition Provisional Authority transferred power to the Iraqi Interim Government in June, 2004 the new regime passed two laws: they restricted the freedom of the press and restored capital punishment. Two years later deposed violent dictator Saddam Hussein was swinging from a noose being jeered and filmed by witnesses to his execution. This week, ten years later, 250 civilians were blown up in Baghdad.
Six months into power in 1997, Tony Blair’s government argued vociferously that EU proposals to ban tobacco advertising and tobacco sponsorship from all sport (part of Labour’s election manifesto) must exempt Formula 1 Racing. Earlier that year Bernie Ecclestone, holder of Formula 1’s commercial rights, had discreetly donated £1m to Blair’s election war chest. “Cash for Cancer” preceded “Cash for Honours” – when Blair commissioned Lord Levy to offer peerages to wealthy businessmen in exchange for donations to the Party – by almost a decade.
In the intervening years, Tony Blair not only plotted secretly with George Bush Jr to invade Iraq without UN sanction, fed false information to Parliament, bullied the Attorney General into giving groundless legal approval and threw fuel on an ever more deadly fire still blazing across Iraq and Syria and throughout cities from Paris to Ankara, Madrid to Dhaka, London to Casablanca, Brussels to Istanbul with hundreds of thousands of victims, he also changed the vocabulary of politics in the UK.
Tony Blair converted citizens and society into consumers and the market, he peeled schools away from elected local authorities to form multi-Academy Trust chains; he promoted low tax and light touch fiscal and financial policies that have saddled public services with crippling PFI debt and brought the banks crashing down; he purged internal critics such as Ken Livingstone (like Thatcher he could not tolerate dissent with an epicentre in the capital); he made a Faustian pact with the right wing press (“I make no apology for the efforts by New Labour to cultivate Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere”: Jonathan Powell, Chief of Staff to Tony Blair) he pursued the economics of growth at the expense of inequality (“issues of fairness and equality are bigger issues now than they were for us in the 90’s… we took it for granted that continuing economic growth will bring about a rise in living standards without…. interventions”: Lord Mandelson) that laid down the battle lines for the Referendum debate today; he personally closed down a Serious Fraud Office investigation exposing BAe’s billion pound bribe to Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia and forced through the sale of expensive and useless military radar equipment to impoverished Tanzania over objections from the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short…. who famously resigned over the Iraq war.
Since then, Tony Blair has amassed a huge property portfolio, won a lucrative consultancy at JPMorgan Chase, brokered financial deals between repressive Gulf States and China and undermined two of his successors as Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband and most vigorously, Jeremy Corbyn.
Tony Blair has been my political nemesis within the Labour Party for 22 years. Not since 2003 but since 1994 when I voted against him in the Party leadership election. I still keep a copy of my Labour Party membership card with the old version of Clause IV which he adulterated in 1995. He made it impossible for me to celebrate my Party’s victory in 1997 foreseeing it, as I did, as the end of any possibility of left wing government for a generation. I was right.
Now with the Chilcot Report published, Blair is on his knees and at my mercy, why is it that mercy is exactly what I want to show him? (By the way, there is a stronger prima facie case for Blair being charged with treason than with war crimes since emails and telephone records indicate he was conducting British foreign policy in the service of a foreign power, viz. the United States).
Because while in mythology, monster-slaying restores fertility to the land, in real life it does not. Those two hundred plus dead in Baghdad were Shia Muslims. Most of the victims of Jihad in Iraq are victims of sectarian violence, of Takfiri Jihad, of Fitna which is the Arabic for civic strife. All this took pace… after the monster was slain.
Tony Blair has been discredited, he no longer holds political office and after Chilcot his influence will wane even more. As far as I am concerned he has been called to account.
I believe in a politics far removed from vengeful Iraq, the score-settling Parliamentary Labour Party, the internecine EU Referendum. I have had enough of newspaper banner headlines accompanying photographs of a cowering Boris Johnson declaiming “The man who betrayed Britain!” or of Michael Gove with the caption “Political Psychopath”, or hearing that Nigel Farage is receiving death threats and is accompanied by police bodyguards, or watching the British Prime Minister shout at a besieged Jeremy Corbyn, “For heaven’s sake man, go!” or witnessing David Lammy receive racist hate mail online. Or learning that an MP, such as Jo Cox has been killed.
Tony Blair was my adversary within the Labour Party and did untold damage to the country, the Middle East and the Party but I will not be part of lynch mob politics.
He was wrong. We were right. He has gone. Now enough people know that, we need to learn the lessons of the tragedy in which he played a leading role, we need to honour the victims, avoid retribution and move forward, enlightened, but not enraged.