Tony Blair is loathed by the British establishment to a degree that is hard for many Americans to appreciate. Unlike the Bush hatred so endemic in Democratic and mainstream-media circles, Blair hatred is not a strictly partisan affair. Indeed it is not an exaggeration to say that the prime minister is reviled by most of the political class.
Check out the newspapers. (The British are the biggest newspaper readers of the world and British pols are terrified of the press) At the extremes, the left-wing Independent and the right-wing Daily Mail
have long loathed the PM (and America and department stores and Israel) with equal passion. But now almost all the papers are frothing at the mouth with anticipation of the prime minister’s supposedly imminent fall — their columnists fed tidbits by the staff of his would-be successors, the comically treacherous Chancellor Gordon Brown and the Tories’ apostle of political correctness David Cameron. As the dubious police investigation into “cash for honours” scandal gets rapturously overblown coverage, the whole tone has become relentless and shrill, the pundits basically screaming: “Why won’t he go already? “
It apparently infuriates the chattering class that Blair remains in power so long after he was declared finished by elite opinion. More than a year ago Blair was definitively deemed a discredited lame duck by the BBC’s Today Programme, the oracular flagship radio show listened to by every MP and treated with Pravda-like deference by all of Fleet Street. Yet he refuses to resign. Can’t he see that it’s all over? That his “illegal” wars are a disaster? That his slavish deference to Bush has provoked terrorist attacks? That all of us have decided that it’s time for him to go?
Bizarrely the visceral hatred of Blair — similar to Thatcher hatred, Clinton obsession, and Bush loathing in its intensity — has little or nothing to do with any of his ill-considered constitutional reforms (a separate legislature for Scotland, etc.) or any of the other failures of his administration, nor even because of the ghastly youth-worshipping “Cool Britannia” ethos of his early years.
No, Tony Blair is hated mostly for the big things that he has done right — the really important, civilization-protecting things like overthrowing Saddam and the Taliban, and intervening in Sierra Leone to stop a savage civil war. Many on the Left hate him for being a liberal interventionist and of course for being such a close ally of Uncle Sam.
Some of the Right hates him for the same reasons, though others only oppose the war on terror because Tony Blair is for it. This portion of Tory opinion hates him — and this is not a joke — because his government banned fox-hunting on horseback. Anything and everything else he has done since is deemed equally wrongheaded or even evil.
How bad is it? Well, to really appreciate elite hatred of Blair you have to check out the London cultural scene.
A couple of weeks ago Britain’s Channel 4 (the network behind last year’s docudrama fantasy about the assassination of President Bush) ran a massively promoted show called The Trial of Tony Blair. The program was advertised by “Tony Blair — Wanted” posters on the London underground. It envisioned a 2017 trial of the former PM for “War Crimes” against Iraq in the International Court in the Hague. As one leading columnist wrote in anticipation of the program — much praised for its ham-handed, supposedly biting satire — “Tomorrow night, we will finally have our revenge.”
There’s also a new play, or rather a theatrical happening, entitled Called to Account: The indictment of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair for the crime of aggression against Iraq — a Hearing. It is running at a fashionable London theater called the Tricycle. The professional-class audiences whoop it up as a senior barrister Philippe Sands — a member of the same radical firm as Tony Blair’s wife Cherie — “tries” the prime minister for his alleged crimes.
If that weren’t enough, January saw the opening of an art exhibition at the Tate Britain museum entitled State Britain. It recreates the antiwar installation of well-known Parliament Square protester Brian Haw, (sample poster: “stop genocide of Iraq”) and includes a painting of Blair, Chancellor Brown, and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw washing their hands in a bowl filled with blood and labeled Iraq. It has been widely praised.
To most Americans and other fair-minded people there is something bizarre about the notion of Tony Blair as a “war criminal” deserving of the full Nuremberg treatment. After all, if he’s the villain, who then are the good guys, besides Saddam and his supporters, and the fanatics who think it’s O.K. to set off suicide bombs in crowded nightclubs?
These vengeful fantasies of prosecution for alleged “war crimes” reveal a callow ignorance as to what war crimes really are. They also reflect a European elitism. After all, Blair could not have more democratic legitimacy: he won his last election after the beginning of both “illegal” wars.
It’s obvious that the people who put these shows on — and those who watch them — know little and understand less about the real war in Iraq (as opposed to a fantasy war in which SS-like British and American troops deliberately target Iraqi civilians for murder and torture).