Thursday 11 June 2009

How Will Tony Blair Be Judged By History?

Here are the two elements of an answer I gave to this question elsewhere. I forget where now. :-))

1.) Badly, very badly-at least if I have anything to do with it! He involved my country in one of the most unjustifiable and unnecessary wars in our history; he laid the foundations for the dismantling of the United Kingdom; he passed ever more powers to the European super-state; he introduced levels of cynicism and manipulation into British politics far in excess of any previous head of government; he turned principle into spin, manipulating the whole system of government into his own self-serving ends. I suspect his greatest achievment was to give way to the utterly charmless Gordon Brown, a brilliant exercise in self-promotion, which has served to make him look good in retrospect, casting a fog over his many errors! You asked for an opinion; well, you've got one.

2)X, it's not so much that you are asking for debate that concerns me. Rather, you are holding up a mirror, expecting to see your own judgements reflected back at you. In your obvious surprise that they are not you are starting to wave the Blair flag; but what about this and what about that? I could, if I wished, offer detailed challenges to your list of Blairite 'achievements', from the supposed independence of the Bank of England to the Human Rights Act, the operation of which, in my experience, is held in almost universal contempt. But what would be the point? History is the only judge, and history tends, in its arbitrary and sweeping way, to take account only of the big picture; and in Blair's case the big picture is not good.

We went to war in the Middle East not in defence of human rights (were they somehow worse in Iraq than, say, Zimbabwe or North Korea?), but in pursuit of non-existent terrorists and illusory weapons of mass destruction. We found a bad situation and we made it infinitely worse. We removed a secular dictator, only to allow the worst forms of fratricidal and religious conflict to emerge. I sincerely hope that things in Iraq 'could still turn out well', as you put it, but do you honestly believe that will make the sacrifice of thousands upon thousands of innocent lives worthwhile?

Blair's administration, in its embarrassment over the lies and deceptions that took us to war in the Middle East, tried to hide the true facts, and may very well have hounded an innocent man to his death. In the end I do sincerely believe that he, along with Dubya, Svengali to his Trilby, will stand condemned before the bar of history.

But, yes, you are right; I find it difficult to be objective here. Like a climber, I only see the rock face in front of me, and not the mountain. I grew up during the Blair years, and voted for the first time in the general election of May 2005 (Conservative, if you want to know!). It's too much a part of my life for me to bring my scholarly instincts to bear. In the end the only real response to your question is that given by Zhou Enlai when asked about the historical significance of the French Revolution-'It's too early to say.' Ask me again in twenty years or so, by which time I will have written his biography. For, in the end, history might be no more than what historians say it is!


  1. It's harsh to blame Blair for the sectarian bloodshed that occured in Iraq after the removal of Saddam, which happened essentially because the Sunni Arab minority reacted to the loss of its priveleged position by venting its fury on the Shia majority. The Iraqis could have behaved differently, but chose not to.

    Time will tell whether Iraq develops into a stable democracy, but if it does, it would be a development of immense significance for the Arab world.

  2. He is the minor villain, Bush the major. Yet, of the two, he is the more culpable because he is the more intelligent. He had access to the best advice on the history, religion and politics of Iraq, and then simply ignored it. History will tell, Zaki; it always does.

  3. So we are all trapped in our history, are we? History will tell, but history is a story of change.

  4. No, that's not what I am saying; you are not grasping the essential point, Zaki. We will only be able to form a more complete picture with the passage of time, when all the relevant documentation has been uncovered, which, with a little comic exaggeration, was the argument put forward by Zhou Enlai. :-))

  5. Well I agree with that. Historians will give us a better understanding of what happened. I have less confidence in their powers of prediction. Professor E H Carr was still predicting the downfall of capitalism in 1978!

  6. Hey, Zaki, there are historians and there are historians! Beyond that I will not go. :-))