How does he do it?

Tony Blair

How did Tony Blair turn what ought to have been an ignominious retreat – a defeated backward step from power – into a noble and affecting curtain call? I am, again, in awe. The man is the most remarkable political figure of the post-war era. A fascinating, hypnotising, utterly political animal, somehow managing to exist outside or above history, or at least events.

Blair is the first British leader of the 21st Century but also, perhaps, the first truly 21st Century leader anywhere in the world (will Sarkozy be the second?). I know I sound like a fanboy. He’s a story-teller, a weaver of powerful, condensed narratives that motivate and win round. And these stories are subtle and economical – a lot like the compressed narratives of advertising.

They’re all about Britain, about its people, about its place in the world. Rarely about anything else. Even when he’s talking about Sierra Leone or Iraq or Trident or debt relief, he’s painting a picture of Britain – robust, honest, fair-minded, forward-thinking – that’s as powerful and as influential as any prime minister’s before him. Like him or not, his version of Britain is catchy, contemporary – one that will form the template for Brown’s (or Cameron’s) Britain and for those who follow.

I admire Tony Blair enormously, while I hate the mess that Iraq has become and the damage that it’s done to Britain and to Labour and to Blair himself. I think his courage, which is unarguable and instinctive, sets a difficult example for his successors too. Prevarication, absenteeism and avoidance will all be more difficult choices in the post-Blair era. Blair’s Britain will, whether we like it or not, outlive his period in office by many years.


  1. He did ‘it’ because in my opinion the British electorate are disengaged, soft for photogenic politicians and deeply uninformed about real policy and it’s implications. But even better Steve, he did it because he held a mirror up to us all and showed us for the hypocrites we are.

    A collaborative working peace in Ireland is one of his biggest achievements, but this is dwarfed by his legacy in Iraq and the ugly deal made with Saudi Arabia over the Al Yamamah agreement. Most people don’t even know what he did there. That’s the compacent electorate I’m on about.

    As for best post war leader? That honour goes to Clement Attlee. No, Blair achieved some marvelous stuff not least of which is a pampered and self indulgent Britain that eases it’s conscience with consumer goods and carries it’s humility with all the grace of the rampant obesity that skyrocketed during his office.

    Paradoxically he may have been the most important politician ever to put Green issues to the forefront and it’s quite possible that will be remembered forever in history around the world for that action. “The most important piece of paper to land on my desk” he said about the Stern report. I was gobsmacked. Its still reverberating around the world.

    Right I’ll get off my soapbox now. But that wasn’t bad was it? 🙂

  2. He’s not really that concerned about the environment though is he? And why do so many people think he has charisma? He is possibly the most clearly fake persona (hey guys, call me Tone, cool!) since Max Headroom. And he’s a Tory.

  3. “He’s a story-teller, a weaver of powerful, condensed narratives that motivate and win round.”
    In 1997 Labour won 43 percent of the vote. In this month’s elections we won 26 percent.
    That’s not exactly a bucketful of winning round during his premiership is it brother?

  4. Of course, you’re all right, in one way or another. But still, in no particular order:

    * Labour may languish at 26% of the vote right now but that’s after three general election victories. Could we have achieved that under Foot, Kinnock or Smith? Or anyone else for that matter?

    * I didn’t say he was the ‘best’ post-war leader. I said he was the ‘most remarkable’ post-war leader. Still, answer these questions for me: which Government invested more *in real terms* in the health service: Attlee’s or Blair’s? Which Government employed more people, trained more doctors, opened more hospitals, built more schools *in real terms*: Attlee’s or Blair’s? (clue: Blair’s)

    I know it’s a slightly phony comparison but I do want to say that, when the histories are written, Blair’s reforms will be seen to have had a larger effect than Attlee’s. There: stick that in your pipe… 🙂

  5. Let it be known Steve that Clement Atlee established the NHS at a time when Britain’s economy was in absolute ruin, as in comparison to the stability and “sustained growth” “we” have now. Not to difficult to throw money at something when you actually have it.
    Thank fuck for the Marshall plan.

  6. Steve. Clement Atlee created the modern health service. Anything else after that is budget management. I’m puffing away on the pipe 🙂

  7. I have, for my whole adult life, shared your admiration for the Attlee govt. but I do think we have to stare these orthodoxies down once in a while. We’re hobbled to this day by the limitations of the first generation NHS and the small-c conservatives who passionately and wrong-headedly defend the often entirely accidental structures we’ve inherited from Bevan et al don’t help.

    For instance, why are we happy to tolerate the fact that GPs and consultants can still (60 years on!) operate essentially as free agents? Because Bevan simply didn’t have the muscle to push through his intended structures (he wanted them to be simply employees of the NHS).

    We need to accept that the NHS (and state education, for that matter) are historic accidents, version 1.0, provisional, contingent. Not sacred institutions, not ideal. Not finished – and, in places, totally broken.

  8. oi,bowprick, stop arselicking that complete numnuts blair.
    if i wanted a liar as primeminister and a country jam packed full of foreigners, i’d have voted for him.but i didnt.

  9. Hi there.

    I can’t really add to your praise and accurate recognition of Tony Blair’s political attributes. It’s CLEAR and OBVIOUS to even the disinterested observer. Only those who have already decided to hate something or other about Blair, be it his policies, his personality, star quality, his comparison to earlier Labour reformers, or his being – dammit! – in the wrong party, can fail to appreciate what we’ve been living through. You don’t really notice history when it’s happening – but we will when we look back.

    Hard to accept for some, but in time, I think we will even see Iraq differently.

    My blog is still stubbornly doing its bit. A bit like Blair really.

  10. I’m a little more cynical than you I’m afraid. Blair is a trained and (was) highly skilled barrister. And what are good barristers good at? Yes – winning arguments, putting points across, swaying people around to their opinion. I think Blair and his advisors f*@ked up big time and the legacy he has left us with is extremely disappointing. I will still probably always be a Labour voter but I feel really let down with what he has done to this country. To the point where it makes me want to go into local politics myself in a bid to make a difference and stand up for those who have been unneccesarily criminalised and neglected by his misguided social policies.

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