In praise of… Tony Blair

I voted for Tony Blair as Labour leader in 1994; I voted for him again to become Labour prime minister in 1997. I soon learned my lesson.

As Prime Minister, he failed. Not so much domestically: sure, he disappointed but show me a political leader who doesn’t.

But in foreign policy, Mr Blair was an unmitigated disaster, the most incompetent post-war Prime Minister bar none (yes, even worse than Anthony Eden).

His intentions are irrelevant: the results of his – and it was his – decision to wage war against Iraq have made Britain and the world less safe at huge cost to human life, both in Iraq and here in the UK. It was tragically calamitous, and nothing can excuse or exempt him from the judgement of history.

However, I applaud without reserve his decision to donate the royalties from his forthcoming memoir, A Journey, to the Royal British Legion.

As Ian Leslie’s superb Marbury blog notes:

Blair’s decision to give away several million pounds to charity is interpreted – paradoxically – as yet more evidence of his greed, allowing the media to recycle lipsmacking speculations about his supposedly Saudi-style riches. The Telegraph puts his post-office income at £20m; even you take that plucked-from-the-ether figure seriously, you might still consider the fact that he’s just given a quarter of it away to be mildly impressive. …

Then there are the accusations this is mere “spin” – yes, every moth-eaten cliche has been dragged out for another outing. But this is, as scientists say, unfalsifiable – how could he have done this without it being interpreted as such? By donating privately, maybe, though I’m not sure that would have been possible, and anyway, the more public acts of charity the better, in my view; it encourages the others (I wonder if George Bush will feel compelled to follow suit).

Does Mr Blair’s decision to donate millions to charity wipe clean the slate? No. Does it un-do the untold damage he helped create? No.

But will it help people in need who are alive today? Yes. A thousand times yes.

What right have we, as armchair critics, to tell beneficiaries of the Royal British Legion’s work, “Tough: we think Tony was wrong, so tell him to stick his money”? They put their lives on the line: I didn’t. I have less than zero right to assume the moral high-ground here.

As the fundraising cliche (variously attributed to the Salvation Army, an Oxford sociologist and a dramatist of Mother Teresa’s life) goes:

‘We will take your dirty money, and make it clean!’

I have no doubt the Royal British Legion will make good use of Tony Blair’s money, and that the lives of injured soldiers will be made better as a direct result. That’s something; which is better than nothing.

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14 Comments

  • “Incompetent” sounds like he acted in good faith and merely made a mistake. I don’t believe that for a second. I think he knew exactly what he was doing and what the consequences would be.

    This is just him taking a shot at public penance, but of course the Legion will welcome the money and so they should.

  • I think he failed domestically, too.

    Britain under Blair has become the most surveilled state in the world. People can be detained for up to 28 days without trial, the longest period in the Western world… and Blair wanted longer. Taxes, especially stealth ones, have gone up and up and up, and we were terribly placed to deal with the economic downturn, having a massive budget deficit. The Met police are extremely arrogant nowadays thanks to a general policy of, “if ACPO asks for it, give them it.” Drugs policy is abysmal, with no effort whatsoever having been made to take a new approach to the failed war on drugs. Constant pandering to the Red Tops has led to bad policy decision after bad policy decision. Blair has failed even to acknowledge he’s made mistakes domestically. Aside from one or two half-decent pieces of legislation in the first few years, New Labour has been an unmitigated domestic disaster.

  • Oh, and I forgot to mention one of the more egregious outcomes of Blair’s policy whims… the constant rise in the proportion of faith schools, preaching faith to children in the one place where facts should prevail, not to mention having the tendancy to segregate. Blair think this is a good thing.

  • I can’t muster a cheer; criminals aren’t normally allowed to benefit personally from writing books about their crimes. His decision simply brings him into line with those who’ve been taken through the courts properly.

  • @Stephen Tail

    I would say that Sierra Leone was an unmitigated success for Tony Blair. It encapsulated what I consider to be a truly liberal interventionist foreign policy action that we should all defend. At least, that’s what I think, with what I know of the action.

  • I consider Blair to have been a disastrous prime minister and a deeply immoral and hypocritical man. However, it would be churlish to criticise him for donating this money to the Foreign Legion, whatever his motives for doing so.

  • I personally think this is Blair getting his revenge on Brown,Brown always said he would try and do good works for charity when he left office so Blair has decided to trump him by donating a large sum of money to charity just to stick one to gordon,the reason i think this is the case is because there are murmerings that brown has been asked to give some speeches in the middle east for a fee of $100,000 a pop which is something he said he wouldn’t do,so maybe brown will try and build up a nest egg so as not to be outdone by blair.I know it seems a little far out but hey it is silly season.

  • Stuart Mitchell 18th Aug '10 - 7:37pm

    Blair’s critics should consider themselves incredibly fortunate that they will never have to make the kind of decisions he had to make. It’s all so easy from where we’re sitting, isn’t it?

  • Stuart Mitchell ..I have been reading on the internetz that isreal is planning a airstrike on iran next year so we will see were the liberal blair haters stand next year if god forbid it does happen,i personally think tony blair was hoodwinked by the evangelicals in the republican party myself and don’t think he was a bad or evil man like some .If anything i think ater 9/11 he let his heart rule his head and was just incredibly misguided by those closest to him.

  • @Tom King.
    Here here.

  • Stuart Mitchell 19th Aug '10 - 10:08pm

    @Tom King – On the other hand, there is Matthew 5:16 :-

    “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

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