Politics & Policy

Blair of the Critics

The British prime minister has been uniformly maligned by ill-informed critics.

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).

They are as clueless and self-indulgent as the Hollywood actor-activist Tim Robbins and his politically illiterate play Embedded. (Certainly they have no idea that most of the civilian deaths in Iraq have been inflicted by Sunni militants, former regime elements, and Wahhabi volunteers.) Nor do these anti-Blair crusaders believe that there is any real terrorist threat other than that “provoked” by Bush and Blair’s wars.

I have met senior judges and lawyers who really, truly believe that Blair and Bush lied about WMDs. I pointed out to one top barrister that if Saddam’s WMD threat had been a lie rather than an error, then surely the Coalition would have been better prepared for the moment when no WMDs turned up. Or if the Bush-Blair alliance was so evil, would it not have been willing to fake the discovery of the forbidden weapons? It was clear the barrister had never even thought the matter through.

Moreover the British chattering classes are convinced almost to a man (or woman) that Guantanamo is at best a gulag in which all the detainees are innocent victims of paranoia and aggression, and where the quotidian tortures rival those of the Gestapo. They “know” that the war in Iraq is really about stealing oil, doing Israel’s evil bidding, boosting corporate profits, or some vicious combination of all three. The war in Afghanistan is equally “pointless” and “unwinnable.”

They fully buy the media line that radical Islamism is somehow a creation of these wars rather than a phenomenon that predated 9/11, and that solving the Palestinian question will somehow bring peace between Shia and Sunni and end bin Ladenite dreams of restoring the medieval caliphate.

But even if the Blair haters did have a clue about the reality of terrorism and today’s wars, the really important thing about anti-Blairism is that it is a cipher for the envious, ill-informed, elitist, and bigoted anti-Americanism that is endemic among the British upper middle class. Blair is constantly, endlessly condemned as “Bush’s poodle.” Supposedly he is so keen to win Washington’s favor that he has ignored and even endangered British interests. Indeed by (allegedly) uncritically siding with the U.S. on all foreign policy and security questions, he has supposedly provoked Islamist terrorism in the U.K. — as if Islamist extremism didn’t exist here before the Afghan and Iraq wars. There are shades here of the Nuclear Disarmament hysteria of the 1970s when British governments were said to have endangered an otherwise safe island by allowing the basing of U.S. nuclear bombers in the U.K.

The fact that Blair has shown enormous moral courage and not given in to the anti-Americanism of many of his erstwhile friends and colleagues has only made his unpopularity worse. Nor does the fact that many ordinary people, especially the pro-American working class still support Blair and the war, do him any favors. (The proletariat also eat at McDonalds, watch trash TV, and take sweaty vacations at Florida Disneyland instead of Tuscany and the Dordogne — their pro-Americanism is a measure of their vulgar ignorance.) Indeed, each day that he stands his ground in the war against terrorism and for Western democratic values, the more he incurs the loathing of the bien-pensant.

Now that Blair’s days in office are numbered, the papers in London are filled with snide columns about the huge amount of money the former PM may make when he goes on lecture tours in the U.S. One can only hope that the columnists are correct and that a grateful America makes him a very rich man indeed.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”


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