Tony Blair may be over, but Blairism thrives
Neil Clark: Nauseated? Shocked? Sure, but he’s still Britain’s most charismatic politician
Eight out of ten people think he lied on Friday in his evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry. There is a bounty out for his arrest as a war criminal. Twenty-eight per cent of British people think he should be prosecuted for war crimes.
But while Tony Blair the man is undoubtedly damaged goods, Blairism - despite the debacle of Iraq - lives on. And if anything, the influence that the former prime minister and his adherents have over British politics is only going to get stronger in the months ahead.
After the next election the Parliamentary Labour Party is likely to be more dominated by Blairites than it is today. Those hoping for an 'Old Labour' revival will be disappointed. As noted by George Eaton in the New Statesman, 10 members of the 23-strong Socialist Campaign Group, including the staunch anti-Blairites Alan Simpson and Bob Marshall-Andrews, are standing down at the next election.
In the safe Labour seat of Liverpool West Derby, the anti-war and solidly 'Old Labour' MP Bob Wareing has been controversially de-selected in favour of the uber-Blairite Stephen Twigg, a man who, when MP for Enfield Southgate, voted "very strongly" for the Iraq war.
In Liverpool Wavertree, according to the Mail on Sunday, the 28-year-old Londoner Luciana Berger, once linked with Tony Blair's son Euan, has been selected, to the anger of local Labour party figures, to replace the retiring Blairite MP Jane Kennedy. "There has been an operation to put this woman into the seat," claims the veteran Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle. "All the people who have mentioned her name to me I would describe as Blairites, with one or two exceptions."
And it's not just in the Labour party that Blairites will have the upper hand. If we do get a Conservative government in the spring, as the polls indicate, it will be packed with devoted admirers of Blair.
David Cameron has marketed the Conservatives as a party that will carry on the Blairite agenda. "I welcome voters and people that supported Blair because they thought he would get the balance right between a strong, competitive economy and the reform of public services. I think the party making those compelling arguments today is the Conservative Party", he said in 2008.
The Shadow education spokesman, and key member of Cameron's inner circle, Michael Gove has gone even further, penning an article entitled "I can't hide my feelings any more: I love Tony". Admittedly, that was written in 2003. But as recently as 2008 Gove said that senior Blairites, such as James Purnell and Lord Adonis. could be offered jobs in the next Conservative government.
In foreign policy, the Conservatives are likely to pursue a Blairite line, echoing the former prime minister with their calls for a tougher stance on Iran and matching his strong commitment to the Atlantic alliance and the state of Israel. Don't forget, too, that the Tories strongly supported Blair's war against Iraq - with Cameron himself voting in favour of military action.
Blair's performance in front of the Chilcot Inquiry is, if anything, only likely to increase Britain's political elite's love affair with the former PM. Yes, it was shocking. Yes, it was nauseating. But it was also a reminder that Blair - along with his political foe George Galloway - is the most charismatic British politician of the modern era as well as being the greatest acting talent to emerge in this country since Sir Henry Irving.
Friday's performance was, as the Guardian's Seamus Milne commented, "classic Blair - the lawyerly evasions over the wording of the September 2002 dossier, the self-deprecating asides over his Fern Britton interview gaffe, the deliberate conflation of the 9/11 attacks and Iraq's weapons programmes, real or imagined."
Watching Blair in action was a reminder of how it was that this incredibly slick and accomplished political performer led his party to three consecutive general election victories.
Even though eight out of 10 Britons believe him to be a liar, does anyone believe that Blair, the consummate politician, would not improve Labour's opinion poll ratings if he were still the party's leader?
Blair's legacy, as Matthew Carr highlighted for The First Post last week, is a toxic one. But while the man himself will never again lead his country, Blairism - and the elite's admiration for British politics' most fatal charmer - will be harder to eradicate. ·