The unravelling of Tony Blair
One of the things my American friends don’t understand is why the subterfuge over Iraqi WMD is so damaging to Tony Blair. The best articulation of this comes from a lovely essay by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books. Central passage reads:
“The key issue for Blair seems to be his own sincerity. He is desperate to convince us that he believes in the rightness of his actions. This has been a faultline in his personality from the very beginning. It’s instructive, in this context, to consider the ways in which he differs from Thatcher. Her psychological and political make-up was based on the proposition ‘I am right.’ She relished disagreement and opposition, and the feeling that she was saying things that people did not want to hear but secretly knew were true. When she slipped into madness, or if not madness then something close to it, she did so with the wattage of her blazing-eyed rectitude higher than ever. But Thatcher never claimed to be Good, just Right. Blair’s political personality has always been predicated on the proposition ‘I am good.’ His dewy-eyed, slightly fumbling sincerity – his brilliantly articulate impersonation of earnest inarticulacy – has all along been tied to this self-projection as a Good Man. He is careful about not touting his religion in public, but he doesn’t need to, since the conviction of his own goodness is imprinted in everything he says and does. It is one of the things he has in common with the party he leads, and one of the reasons people are wrong when they say that Blair is a natural Tory. Thatcher’s sense of being right fits into the Tory Party’s self-image as the home of unpopular and uncomfortable truths. Blair’s sense of being good fits the Labour self-image as the party of virtue: the party we would all vote for if we were less selfish and greedy.
Blair seems to want this sense of himself to override all the boring factual details about things like why we went to war, the legal basis of war, whether Saddam had WMD, whether he in point of fact posed any risk to the UK, whether MI6 are incompetent or merely ill-used or both; Blair just wants us to take his word for all of it. Inside the Downing Street Wolfsschanze, all this is seen as an issue for the ‘chattering classes’ – a phrase as beloved of New Labour as it was of the Tories and one which would have caused Goebbels a snicker of professional respect. This world-view means that the Government doesn’t have to listen to a word said by its critics since all our arguments come pre- dismissed. It is exactly analogous to the point Thatcher got to when her sense of her own rightness began to override her sense of external reality. It may be too simple to say, as Clare Short said, quoting an unnamed Tory, that ‘no one ever leaves Downing Street entirely sane.’ But there is a moment in most premierships when it is clear that the external world no longer counts quite as much in the Prime Minister’s deliberations as it once did; a point where we no longer believe them, and they no longer much care what we think.”
This is a thoughtful piece, well worth reading in full.