Monday, 5 August 2013

Tony Blair; The "Great Persuader"

The thing that interests me about Blair's career since stepping down as British PM is whether his obsessive activism is not just all about his egotism and vanity only, as well as his attempt to safeguard a 'legacy' for himself in history but also about a man disturbed by the calamitous decision to invade Iraq.

Some say Blair is just a 'sociopath', 'warmonger', 'evil' etc . It seems to me that he really does have some sort of a bad conscience. His pose now ( as set out in his Tony Blair : A Journey ) is to take on the 'burden of his agony' for that decision in 2003 and ask others to see it from his perspective.

Blair was always sinister, in that sense, from the outset. He cultivated the idea he was an 'ordinary sort of guy' who had to learn on the job, someone determined to do his duty as PM but somehow slightly lonely and having to make hard decisions such as Iraq he never really wanted to.

Blair is still asking people to collude in the reality as he saw and sees it which is strange. Why does it matter to him so much now that he is no longer in power ? He still has his various projects referred to under the title The Office of Tony Blair., a ghostly remnant of a faded power that won't give itself up.

Under the section 'biography' on his website, he not only lists his current missions but also '50 acheivements' that New Labour had under Blair's time as PM. The mission is always ongoing, going onwards from the domestic stage and always upwards into a broader global one.

Iraq has been downgraded as something he claims no longer feels the need to justify. The facts are mostly established. After two public enquiries, he has nothing left to answer for and so history will judge him. But , if so, he seems to use every opportunity to use his 'office' to put a retrospective gloss on Iraq.

I think J G Ballard grasped an important truth about Blair when he wrote in May 2005,
'I like Blair but I think he is dangerous, with his actor's sincerity that hides a hysterical personality and a talent for drawing everyone into his make-believe world. The Iraq war was only one of a series of huge self-deceptions in which we have willingly colluded, in the way that a bored and restless congregation incites an evangelical preacher.
I'm uneasy with the Downing Street apparatus that has assembled itself around him, a public relations firm pretending to be a brainier, British White House. Blair is our president, but he has little real power. The inertial forces that lock Britain into its past are too great for him, and all the levers in his hands have snapped.
I'm sure Blair took us into Iraq because he was flattered to be summoned from the lower school and invited into the senior prefect's study. Bush and the neo-cons are driven by emotion, and this appeals to Blair. The emotions are the one language that he understands, and reality is defined by what he feels he ought to believe. He commands no battle groups, and Britain's per capita income is one of the lowest in western Europe. Without the largely foreign-owned City of London the whole country would be a suburb of Longbridge, retraining as an offshore call-centre servicing the Chinese super-economy.'
Part of it is that Britain is in an anachronistic position as a permanent UN security council member, a role it has because of its status in 1945 and one that persists in completely different world. Blair embodied British delusions of power and influence to an extreme degree. .

But why are people still buying into them ? Who really is backing Blair exactly? Why are his banal injunctions even heeded or listened to ? Is he really taken seriously by anyone ? If not why is he still around ? Here are some recent pearls of wisdom that illuminate the challenges of leadership we face as the 21st century unfolds...

They were made at the 5th Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem,
"The person running to be leader has to be the Great Persuader"

"Leaders have to communicate; but the final judgement on their leadership is not about what they say, but what they do."

"Leaders are decision makers and takers" 

"Leadership is always about taking responsibility when others would shrink from it; about stepping out and not stepping back."

"Everywhere you look there is uncertainty, unpredictability and instability."

"it’s a lot easier to give the advice than take the decision!". 

"Stick with what you believe. Lead from a point of principle. Because the conventional wisdom of today may be the disposable folly of tomorrow.". 

"Democracy is a way of deciding who are the decision makers; it can’t substitute for the decisions....It means religion in its proper place with a voice but not a veto".

"The good news is that the lesson of what works in government is clear. The hard part is applying it.".

"..we should understand: the window of opportunity will be open for only a short space of time. We must go through it together. If not the window will close again and could even close forever. Time is not our friend. This is urgent. This is now. And it is a time for statesmen not politicians."
It's the same mantra he was banging out back in 1997. Blair used to like the phrase 'it's time to move on' when he wanted to distract attention away from some problematic or controversial issue. But it seems there will never be a time for him to move on from Iraq any more until the day he dies.

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