In Focus

Tony Blair: a controversial knight

More than half a million people have signed a petition calling for his award to be rescinded

“Tony Blair still has the ability to surprise me,” said John Rentoul in The Independent. Given his “anti-establishment cast of mind”, I never thought he’d accept a knighthood. Yet on 1 January, 14 years after leaving Downing Street, the former Labour leader was appointed as Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. Sir Tony described it as an “immense honour”, but his critics are up in arms: more than half a million people have signed a petition calling for the award to be rescinded.

Little wonder, said Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail. While this award is generally extended to every former PM, Blair is not worthy of it. His achievements in office – the Good Friday Agreement, independence for the Bank of England, civil partnerships – are far outweighed by the damage he caused.

He politicised the civil service by diverting power to “party political apparatchiks”; he unleashed an immigration free-for-all in a “bid to reshape the electorate” to Labour’s advantage. Worst of all, he took the UK into Iraq on “a false prospectus” – launching a war in which hundreds of thousands died, and which sent the region into a spiral of violence. Since leaving No. 10, he has further damaged his reputation by advising foreign despots and scheming to overturn the Brexit referendum.

Blair made mistakes as PM, said Stephen Daisley in The Spectator, such as introducing devolution and setting the arbitrary target for half of young people to attend university. But that’s not enough for his “haters”: he must also be a “mass murderer”, the “monster who introduced lying to the noble vocation of politics”. The Right can’t forgive him for trouncing them; the Left can’t forgive him for allying with “the most dogged enemy of socialism: the voters”.

Neither side can admit that Blair was not just a good PM but a “great” one. He turned Labour’s noble aims into action: the minimum wage, tax credits, free nursery care, more doctors, more teachers. He stood by the US over Iraq for good reasons, aware of the political cost. His decade in office left Britain “fairer, smarter, healthier, more modern and more at ease with itself”. Of course Blair deserves a knighthood. The only mystery is why it took so long for him to get one.

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