Monday, May 07, 2007

The Many Faces of Tony Blair

Peter Wilby had an interesting article in Saturday’s Guardian in which he reviewed 12 studies of Blair. There seem to be several interpretations:

  • Blair as a blank slate; no interest in politics as an undergraduate, a consummate actor-performer, no real guiding philosophy, a ruthless pragmatist. The main objective for Blair, in this account, was to get elected and re-elected; he had no other aim than to occupy centre-stage. Vacuous and vain. Obsessed with celebrity and the monied. Will rake-in the millions when he retires. Might choose to settle in the United States. Did not “betray” Labour values because he never had any values to begin with.
  • Blair as rather scary sky-pilot: deeply religious, sees the world in Manichean terms, incapable of admitting error, Messanic. Will probably convert to Roman Catholicism after leaving office. A Gladstonian in foreign policy, author of the doctrine of liberal interventionism. The decision to go to war in Iraq stemmed from this world-view (which Roy Jenkins found too simplistic “for my perhaps now too jaded taste”).
  • Blair as the one of Thatcher’s “sons”, a “Blatcherite”: a convert to the market and a privatisation zealot, a contempt for the left, an utter disregard of Labour’s core voters, subscribes to a “private good, public bad” dogma, the friend of Aznar, Berlusconi, Sarkozy, and Bush. A politician of the right. In historical retrospect: a mere footnote to Thatcherism.
  • Blair the over-confident and yet deeply-insecure “control freak”, with no experience of government before becoming Prime Minister (and never having seen a government fail from within), reliant on a small cabal of co-conspirators, with supreme faith in his own judgement and ability to charm, and yet insecure at heart, with a childish need to be liked.
  • Blair as a social-democrat, “humanising Thatcherism”, articulating the view that economic efficient and social justice can go together. Champion of the “Third Way”. Has forced the Conservative Party to change, just as Thatcher forced Labour to “modernise or die”. Changed the political landscape.

    Which is right? I find the last the least convincing; the social-democratic elements of New Labour (such as they are) seem mostly to bear Brown’s fingerprints rather than Blair’s (I don’t see Blair burning the midnight oil teasing out the details of, say, tax credits or pension credit. Not when a stroll on the White House lawn beckons). But perhaps all of these have some element of truth in them, at least in part, even if they are contradictory. Human beings are complex creatures. Blair the sky-pilot, Blair-the-uber-Thatcherite, and Blair the empty vessel are all part of the mix, with one taking the stage at one time, and another at another time, with some Third Way hot air thrown-in just for good measure. Blair the actor can play more than one role.