The curious fate of Tony Blair

January 28, 2014

Independent columnist Mark Steel asks how retirement is treating Tony Blair.

IF YOU'RE the sort of person who doesn't like your kids mixing with problem families, the type who are always getting arrested, you wouldn't want them going near Tony Blair, would you? Five times now, he's been the subject of a citizen's arrest. This fits with what the police often say--that the vast majority of crimes are committed by a handful of troublemakers, offending over and over again.

Whenever he's asked in interviews about the war on Iraq that caused all his problems, he gives an exasperated sigh and says, "Oh look, I mean, huh, we've been through this many times before." I can see why this may be irritating, but in the mania of modern politics, if you lead your country into an invasion for reasons that turn out to be entirely made up, it is likely to pop up in conversation now and then.

It's like a murder suspect saying to a detective, "Oh for goodness sake, every time you come in my cell you ask me about this axe and my fingerprints. Surely we should draw a line under the matter, and let's discuss my ideas for boosting trade in a modernized Europe."

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair with then-ally Muammar el-Qaddafi
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair with then-ally Muammar el-Qaddafi

Blair's frustration at discussing the issue he's most remembered for suggests he isn't entirely comfortable with his own legacy. When Genghis Khan was interviewed after he retired, he rarely said, "Look, I mean, huh, can we talk about something apart from the massacres? I mean, they were 10 years ago now, and I'm sure viewers would rather hear about the achievements of the Mongolian Surestart scheme."

As further evidence that Blair isn't entirely at ease with himself, Nicolas Sarkozy has said he wishes to become President of France again because he wants to "avoid the fate of Tony Blair," adding that Blair dislikes being "marginalized."

BLAIR IS said to have amassed $116 million since resigning as prime minister, so some people might wish they could be so marginal.

Much of this money comes from global figures he's befriended and advised, although figures he's befriended and advised in the past include Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Muammar el-Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad of Syria. So it wouldn't be surprising if his next accounts showed he'd also advised Rolf Harris on how to ensure a quiet retirement and Manchester United on how to take penalties.

Recently, he's advised JPMorgan Chase and the governments of Kuwait and Kazakhstan. He claims one issue he's advised Kazakhstan on is improving human rights, though the opposition leader said that while Blair was in his job, there was "a deterioration in the human rights and political freedoms situation."

This may be true because, if you were to be cynical, you might wonder why a government that wanted to stop torturing people would need an adviser to help them manage it. Is there a 12-step program they have to follow, where they stand up and say, "I'm the president of Uzbekistan, and I haven't boiled anyone for nine days, except for a student agitator, but he deserved it," and everyone claps?

But you might wonder how likely it is that, even if you were looking for advice on how to stop being so dictatorial, you'd say, "I know the ideal man; Tony Blair." Maybe he's put out an effective advert that goes: "If you're one of those people who rules a country by whizzing millions of volts through your opponents, don't suffer alone. Call the Tony Blair Foundation Tyrants Helpline in complete confidence, where our experienced counselors will listen to your difficulties and help you deteriorate the political freedoms situation even further. If you've someone to batter, first call for a natter."

I've no inside information on what he advises the Kuwaiti government on, so it's a fair guess that it's on how to hold regular elections and not be a dictatorship ruled by one family. And he tells JPMorgan how to distribute money evenly without in any way benefiting a small minority and thereby jeopardizing the economy.

Despite all this, Sarkozy's comment suggests that Blair is frustrated at his image, and his legacy, which he was said to be obsessed about. He faces the likelihood that for the rest of his life, he'll be feted and paid vast amounts by seedy corporations and vindictive governments, but if he ventures into the rest of the world, he'll be demonstrated against, and possibly arrested, as he nearly was by a barman this week.

Maybe that means the opposition to the Iraq war had more of an impact than it seems. Blair can't have believed that supporting the invasion of Iraq would end up with him being reviled like this, and future wars may be less likely as a result.

So it might be healthy to remind him of the issue he'd like to forget, as often as possible. Andrew Marr could arrest him on his Sunday morning TV show, and then as soon as he's released from the station, Blair's driver should arrest him again. Blair could be a guest on Master Chef and ask, "After dicing that onion, can you prepare that beetroot? What do you mean, you can't see a beetroot? I've got a dossier here that proves it's there. Now prepare it."

Until in the end, he turns himself in at The Hague for a quiet life.

First published at the Independent.

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