The Blair ‘legacy’

Anthony Seldon had an extraordinary piece about Tony Blair in the Guardian. The headline — “Whatever the Brownites say, history will judge Blair as a political colossus” — says it all. Andrew Rawnsley — typically — tries to have it both ways in this morning’s Observer, arguing that while Blair has been a disaster, he will get his ten years in Downing Street and thereby join a select Pantheon whose other members are Robert Walpole, Henry Pelham, Lord North, William Pitt, Lord Liverpool, William Gladstone, Lord Salisbury and Margaret Thatcher.

David Marquand has written an elegant riposte to this baloney. It reads, in part,

Iraq was not a minor peccadillo, as Seldon seems to think. It was a monumental, unmitigated disaster, for which Blair is as much to blame as Bush. The shabby tergiversations of the run-up to the war – the misuse of intelligence, the contempt for expert opinion, the disdain for international law and the collusion with the United States in shutting down the Blix investigation of alleged Iraqi WMD – were venial in comparison with the sequel. The endemic conflicts of the Middle East are more explosive than they were. Jihadist extremism is more widespread and more bloodthirsty.

Iraq itself is slithering into civil war. Iran’s rise to regional super-power status has received an enormous boost. The chances of a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis are smaller. Innocent British civilians are in greater danger. And all of this was entirely predictable. The charge against Blair is not so much that he acted illegally and immorally (though he did) as that he hitched his wagon to a US administration of swivel-eyed fanatics, consumed by a messianic fever and utterly ignorant of the realities of one of the most complex regions in the world. It was worse than a crime. It was a blunder for which we shall pay even more dearly in future than we have already.

So why did he do it? It would take a psychiatrist to answer that question fully. But two preliminary answers stand out. The first is that the flip side of Blair’s magical persuasive abilities is, and always has been, an extraordinary capacity for self deception. As Seldon’s own biography of him shows, he has always been apt to mistake his wishes for facts. Like the great actor he is, he lives whatever part he is playing; and if reality gets in the way, so much the worse for reality. The second answer is simpler. Like many people who have been at the top for to long he has succumbed to hubris. The bad news is that nemesis has struck his country as well as himself. The good news is that a merciful release is on its way.

I plump for the second explanation. Indeed I wrote about it last year. All Prime Ministers go mad, eventually, and the longer they server, the madder they become.