Tony Blair (part one)

I belong to an old, good British tradition. The one that says you vote for one political party, always, regardless of what's going on, regardless of who's presently in charge of it; you do that because the party you have chosen, or the party that was chosen for you, by birth, represents your core beliefs, your values, the way you feel about yourself and your country. According to the rules of that old tradition you don't sell your vote to the party that promises you the best advantage; to do so would be a form of prostitution--you'd be selling out yourself and everything that made you who you are. We're told that the tradition has all but died in England, though it seems to have clung on with admirable fierceness in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

You can see the proof of the expiry of the tradition in the success of David "Call Me Dave" Cameron's Conservative Party in the polls. A lot of people who voted Labour last year now appear to be seriously considering a switch to the Conservatives because the Cameron PR machine, which is really the Tony Blair publicity machine Mark II, has convinced them he's not a ravening maniac like Margaret Thatcher. That a Britain under Cameron would be nice, with social tolerance abounding and a damn good environmental footprint as well. He may not have explained how he's going to pay for any of this, or what he thinks about old Tory bogeymen like trade unions or homosexuality; but what the hell, he seems charming enough, for a big-faced old Etonian.

Even if Cameron's promises were all true, which I seriously doubt, and it turned out he was as lovely to the unions as he has promised to be to everybody else, I could no more vote Conservative than I could dig one of my own eyes out with a desert spoon. It would just seem wrong. That's the tradition. I am Labour: my vote is as much an expression of me as what I eat, the music I listen to, the content of my dreams.

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But voters are not only responding, when they consider electing David Cameron, to the sociological change of increased social mobility (not proven, I think), and loss of class identification among the younger generations. It isn't just that Cameron is buying their vote by promising a better deal. The gradual attrition of 10 years as Prime Minister and the Iraq War and subsequent Occupation have done as much to take the gleam from Tony Blair's crown for the electorate. Where once he was regarded as an arrogant, power-crazed but fundamentally good man who was undoing all the wrongs of the Thatcher and Major years--albeit in a sometimes unprincipled fashion--he's viewed now, especially by those sickened by the War, as an arrogant and spectacularly ineffectual man who went to war on a lie, dragged there by an American president with the brains of a common house fly, and is too proud now to admit that it was all a ghastly mistake. A lot of people hold this view so strongly they will hear no good about him. They just want him to go, and yesterday wouldn't be quickly enough.

But--and you may stone me if you wish--I think the present characterisation of Blair is an unfair one. And allowing ourselves to see his government (Brown will be implicated in this, when the leadership election comes), as the government that drew us into the Vietnam of our generation, and did nothing else worth remembering, may usher in a leader (in Cameron), whose Britain we are all struggling to get out of, in a couple of years' time. A Tory is a Tory is a Tory, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, and the last time they were in control this country was a terrible place to be.

My views on the War are well-known. It was a mistake, on Blair's part, albeit one made in understandable circumstances. 9/11 had happened, remember? The terrorists were plotting attacks on London too: cynics may be partly right in saying that Blair's immediate and apparently unconditional support of George Bush turned the attention of the terrorists to London, but it may equally have been a consequence of decades of sanctions against Iraq, other aspects of foreign policy by successive governments, including Thatcher's, fostering the view--widespread among even moderate Muslims--that Western countries are anti-Islamic. The terrorists may just have wanted to attack London because it is an international centre of finance.

There was also the matter of the WMDs, so contentious today because of the "dodgy dossier", the outing and subsequent "suicide" of David Kelly, and the fact that there were no WMDs. Did Blair know there were no weapons? I doubt it. I am not deliberately paraphrasing Mark Anthony's ironic speech in Julius Caesar when I say Blair is an honourable man; I really believe he is, within the perameters of what one can reasonably expect of a barrister and a politician.

But, you will say, the dossier was "sexed-up". Details were massaged to make the Iraq situation seem more desperate so that parliament would be convinced an invasion was justified. Yes, and given Blair's history in the matter of the best-possible presentation of facts and events--spin, as it used to be known--I can believe without any doubt at all that he was happy for the dossier to be made more colourful so that it would have the desired impact. But he wouldn't have approved of any sexing-up if he'd known that the fundamental premise of the dossier was wrong. Quite apart from Blair being a man of principle, what kind of jackass would tell such a fantastic lie when inside of a couple of months he knew he would be found out and look a complete, lying fool whose judgement and integrity nobody could have any confidence in anymore?

I mean, other than George W. Bush, of course.

to be continued