Blair’s credibility deficit

“Funny paper, the Guardian“, remarks Simon Jenkins at the end of his (Guardian) column arguing that Blair is the best bet Labour has. What’s really funny is that the paper pays Jenkins something like £200k a year for his increasingly-jaded rants. Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the paper argued, in an editorial, that Blair’s time was up. And, today, Jonathan Freedland argued that the Prime Minister’s credibility is shot. He’s right.

The crude, harsh truth is that no one can take what Blair says on foreign policy seriously, because he is responsible for the greatest foreign-policy disaster in half a century of British history. No matter that he emerged as a major world leader during the Kosovo war, or that he won international admiration after the Good Friday agreement. Now, because of that one fateful decision, his credibility is shot.

And it is not just in international affairs that Blair is overwhelmed by Iraq. Take the current sleaze affair. A useful law of scandal is that charges only bite when they confirm a pre-existing suspicion. In the 1990s Britons believed the Major government was decayed; the Hamilton and Aitken revelations duly validated that belief. When the Bernie Ecclestone affair broke in 1997, voters didn’t see Blair or New Labour as financially corrupt (even though the charge then, of cash-for-policy, was much graver than anything revealed now). Today’s scandal bites because it plays into something Britons do now believe about their government: that it is not honest and cannot be trusted.

And the explanation for that, once again, is Iraq. Polls show that Blair was broadly trusted before the invasion. But he told the nation that Saddam had weapons of destruction when he didn’t, and Blair has never been trusted since. In this sense, removing Blair over a few undisclosed loans would be like jailing Al Capone for tax evasion: he will be punished for a small offence because the system couldn’t get him for the much larger one.