The Ten Myths of Blair

(A guest post by Gus of 1820 fame.)

Amongst the acres of hagiography written about our departing Prime Minister a number of glaring inconsistencies leap out at this reader about the decade of deceit that is drawing to a close. Let’s look at some of the most glaringly obvious of these…

1. He produced great constitutional change

The first great myth about Blair’s time in office is that he was responsible for the country’s constitutional transformation. This is arrant nonsense. He grudgingly inherited the reality of devolution in Scotland, which had been created from the hard work of a civic based constitutional movement, not handed down as so much benevolent crumbs from a Labour government running scared by support for independence. His input was first to install the tax-raising clause in the referendum (eagerly dubbed the Tartan Tax by the Unionist press in anticipation of its rejection). His wrecking bill failed. He followed this by describing Holyrood as a ‘parish council.’

In Northern Ireland, touted as Blair’s greatest achievement, a far stronger claim for those responsible for transforming the political landscape are Gerry Adams and Mo MNwlam (in that order). Adams’ bravery in guiding the republican movement to abandon its armed struggle and disband the IRA can’t be underestimated. But this story doesn’t fit the fast-building myth-making we’re experiencing.

2. He created a Britain “more at ease with itself”

A bewildering raft of commentators have been banging on about Blair’s legacy is to leave Britain a country “more at ease with itself”.

Having systematically and shamelessly induced fear and distrust in people it’s difficult to see where this claim comes from. Remember the tanks at Heathrow? The CCTV that follows us everywhere? The ASBO culture that acts a youth policy? Should we assume that the growth of the BNP in England or the SNP in Scotland is a sign of our being at ‘ease with ourselves’? Or the existence of Bellmarsh? This vague notion has little value or reality. Maybe ne of the Dimbleby’s doesn’t wear a tie n Question Time but children are still seized from their beds and locked up in Dungavel.

3. He was a Great Communicator

That Blair was a great communicator is a line re-tread by journos up and down the land, but is it true?

Feebly we are offered his line about Diana being the “People’s Princess”, a line so fabulously cheesy, incoherent and plainly nonsensical it is staggering. His oratory was stilted, staccato and famously verb free. His PR was good but contrived by backstage henchmen and often to cover-up policy that was wafer-thin, dysfunctional (or often both).

4. He was an international statesman – responsible for the Blair doctrine – Liberal Interventionism

The greatest lie about Blair – put about by his incessant media team is the nauseating idea of his ‘liberal interventionism’. Pundits casually tag on Iraq to his checklist of achievements and failures, as if you can equate unleashing a savage round of slaughter and mass confusion which have destabilised the geopolitics of the world with, say, child family tax credits.

Writing from Baghdad Patrick Cockburn wrote recently “On a quiet day yesterday police picked up 21 bodies of murdered men. Nobody knows how many corpses lie at the bottom of the river or in shallow graves in the desert.” Four years ago British troops distributed a message from Blair promising: “a peaceful, prosperous Iraq, run by and for the Iraqi people.” Four years on, none of this is true.

5. He tackled global poverty

Blair has made a great play of his international commitments. It’s an unspoken link to his spurious Christianity. The reality is he liked hanging out with Bono and being interviewed by Bob Geldof. This sort of posturing allowed Gordon Brown to attend the Make Poverty History March despite his neo-liberal policies being the focus of its anger.

The G8 agreed to increase aid from rich countries by $48bn a year by 2010. When Tony Blair announced this to parliament, he said that “in addition … we agreed to cancel 100% of the multilateral debts” of the most indebted countries. He also stated that aid would come with no conditions attached. These were big claims, all of which can now be shown to be false.

In recent evidence to the Treasury committee, Gordon Brown made the astonishing admission that the aid increase includes money put aside for debt relief. So the funds rich countries devote to writing off poor countries’ debts will be counted as aid. Russia’s increase in “aid” will consist entirely of write-offs. A third of France’s aid budget consists of money for debt relief; much of this will be simply a book-keeping exercise worth nothing on the ground since many debts are not being serviced. The debt deal is not “in addition” to the aid increase, as Blair claimed, but part of it.

Far from representing a “100%” debt write-off, the deal applies initially to only 18 countries, which will save just $1bn a year in debt-service payments. The 62 countries that need full debt cancellation to reach UN poverty targets are paying 10 times more in debt service. And recently leaked World Bank documents show that the G8 agreed only three years’ worth of debt relief for these 18 countries. They state that “countries will have no benefit from the initiative” unless there is “full donor financing”. In this like much else his claims are overblown or non-existent.

6. He made climate change a world issue

Tony Blair regularly made the claim that “Climate change is one of the most important challenges facing our planet today”. But what did he actually do about this? It was, he claimed ne of the great benefits of his special relationship with George Bush that he could influence American policy and bring them on board for Kyoto. This never happened. While early noises were positive nothing came of this. In fact its possible to chart the influence the other way from the Us onto the UK policy. In 2005 he said (on 15 September at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York) : “I’m changing my thinking about this.” Adding: “no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem”; instead, what countries would be prepared to do is “develop the science and technology in a beneficial way.” The main question, Blair argued, was how to put incentives in place to do that, in circumstances where “I don’t think people are going to start negotiating another major treaty like Kyoto.” This is one of his most lauded victories and is in reality one of his greatest failures. Like his recent rejection of taking seriously his carbon footprint by curtailing his flying, Blair is strong on rhetoric and pitifully weak in practice.

“I personally think these things are a bit impractical, actually to expect people to do that,” Mr Blair told Sky News in January. “It’s like telling people you shouldn’t drive anywhere.”

7. He has created a more open society

Another of the key claims made for Blair’s legacy is that he has created a ‘more open society’. It’s another one of those causal and hazy claims its both difficult to prove or deny. Proponents point to the signing of the Freedom of Information Act (2000), whist opponents point to its mishandling and misappropriation whilst also arguing that the most important and grave areas (such as the police and military) are protected from proper scrutiny and transparency.
As I write the news flashes up that the frontline firearms and surveillance officers involved in the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station will not face a disciplinary tribunal, the police watchdog announced today (see 2 ‘a country more at ease with itself’).

He leaves a climate of fear and a (perhaps healthy) distrust and cynicism about politicians cultivated by a string of ‘scandals’ and abject cronyism. The public are always sold the erosion of civil liberties on the basis that decent citizens have nothing to fear. And we, the citizens, can easily feel the current move is all about the “other” – terrorists, paedophiles, anti-social yobs, Muslims, young blacks, the mentally ill. We always think it is other people’s liberty that is being traded, which somehow makes it all right. We do not realise that liberty is not divisible in this way.

As Helena Kennedy QC wrote in 2004: “Anti-terror laws cannot be vacuum packed; they seep into the policing culture and create new paradigms of state power. During a visit to India this spring, the home secretary suggested that governments may have to consider whether the burden of proof might have to be lowered from “beyond reasonable doubt” to the civil test of the “balance of probabilities” in terrorist trials. Two days later, the prime minister agreed that such a change should be considered, and he went further, suggesting that the lower standard might also apply to other serious crime.

What is introduced today for terrorism almost invariably enters general usage shortly thereafter. The right to silence was first emasculated in terrorism cases in Northern Ireland in 1988, but the erosion of the right was extended into all domestic law in the UK in 1994. The proposal to lower the standard of proof is now part of the new “pre-emptive” civil order proposals for terrorists, coming before parliament in the next session.”

The veil fell revealing the truth about the sort of organisation and culture he’d created most famously when an elderly party member was thrown out of the party conferece in 20005. Walter Wolfgang, from London, was ejected from the hall after shouting “nonsense” as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defended Iraq policy.

8. He’s created a more egalitarian, less hierarchical Britain

Is New Labour little more than, as Robin Ramsay famously described them “the last dribble of Thatcherism down the leg of British politics”? I think not. Last month’s Sunday Times Rich List recorded that the richest 1,000
people in Britain more than trebled their wealth under Blair. Their fortunes grew by 20 percent last year alone, to a combined £360 billion.

London has been described as a “magnet for billionaires, ” attracted by the UK’s reputation as an “on-shore tax-haven” in which the wealthy—many of whom earned their fortunes through asset-stripping, privatization and financial speculation—pay next to nothing on their incomes. In contrast, the number of people living in poverty in Britain last year rose from 12.1 million to 12.7 million, a rise of 600,000 people, whilst the number of poor children increased by 200,000 to 3.8 million between 2005 and 2006.

9. He’s transformed the Labour Party

Well he did that. Apart from moving the party away from its core ideals he also eviscerated its membership.

The membership figure quoted by Labour headquarters in April of 2006 – a number that is rarely released and has to be extracted from them with thumbscrews – was 248,294. It was met with disbelief. It probably came from 2003 and included tens of thousands who had left the party over the Iraq war, or who were six months or more in arrears with their subscriptions. By July of that year a new organisation called Save the Labour Party forced HQ to confess to a figure of 208,000: half as many members as there had been when Blair won the 1997 election, and nowhere near the million members John Prescott used to boast of as being the party’s achievable goal. People have left Labour in droves.

It’s got worse since then. Labour Party membership has declined dramatically since 1997 and is now below the 200,000 mark – the lowest level since Ramsay MacDonald split the party in the 1930s. The membership has grown weary of being implicated in what the media call a “conspiracy of lies,” and resentful of arrogant leadership. A YouGov poll presented to the Compass conference on 17 June found that only 25 percent of Labour Party members believe they influence Party policy, while three-quarters felt policy had been hijacked by rich donors whose influence has grown as membership has shrunk. All of which has ed t the issue barely whispered amongst the deluge of warm congratulations this week: cash for peerages

10. He goes out on a wave of popularity

Blair leaves at a time not of his choosing – an even more detested in Britain than his mentor Margaret Thatcher—officially the most hated prime minister in recent history. Opinion polls record that his legacy is one soaked in the blood of the preemptive war and occupation of Iraq. Half of the population believe it is for this reason that Blair will find his place in the history books.

Blair leaves office as an unindicted war criminal and the first sitting prime minister in history to be interviewed as part of a police investigation (the “cash for honours” scandal).

The elections saw Labour lose control in Scotland for the first time in 50 years, and delivered the party its worst result in Wales since 1918. In England, where Labour was already at an unprecedented low, it was wiped out in 90 local authorities and lost almost 500 councillors. Overall, its share of the vote stands at just 27 percent, under conditions in which turnout never went much beyond 50 percent.

Though his departure this week was a contrived stunt there should be no doubt he leaves a discredited figure, forced out because he’d become a liability.

  1. dearieme said:

    His claim to doing good probably consists solely of letting Brown let the BoE set interest rates. His claim to moral merit is that he despises Old Labour. His claim to novelty is that he is the first overt crypto-catholic. In all, he’s just a loathsome wee twat who gave war a chance. And may perhaps have destroyed Britain.

  2. piersy said:

    While I agree with your sentiment on the whole, you cannot dismiss Blair from the NI peace process so casually.
    Of course Adams was hugely important, but he’d already bought into the idea of a peace process, as seen under the tories, which stalled when they became hostage to the unionist vote to maintain their slimmest of majorities.
    Blair inherited that position and a huge majority, but could easily have sidelined or ignored the issue. But he did pursue it energetically, with the aid of the fantastically capable and appropriate posting of Mowlam.
    But without Blair’s buy in it could still be at impasse today.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think Blair is the devil incarnate frankly, but credit where credit is due.

  3. He has also pushed that most divisive issue, religion, back into the national consciousness thanks to his sucking up to American fundies.

  4. I go along with much of this, although not all of it. I think, for example, that there’s ample evidence that Blair made a major (sorry: pun not intended) contribution to the settlement in Northern Ireland, and that Mo Mowlam, while providing useful atmospherics by hugging everyone and talking to prisoners in the Maze prison, was out of her depth when it came to detailed negotiations. Also her obvious tilt towards the republicans virtually disqualified her as an even-handed intermediary, whatever the merits of the case.

    But I suggest that one of the greatest myths being peddled about Blair’s achievements is that he masterminded a huge and ethical success in Kosovo and that the bombing of Yugoslavia which he sponsored more noisly than anyone else (although it was overwhelmingly an American operation) brought about the liberation of Kosovo from the wicked Serbs. The truth is in fact almost the exact opposite, as spelled out on my blog: see There’s a fuller and documented account of what really happened over Kosovo, and the discreditable and ineffectual part played by Blair in it with its eerie echoes of Iraq, at


  5. Merrick said:

    As well as Piersy’s point about the way Blair could’ve sidelined Northern Ireland, he could just as easily have ignored any domestic clamour for devolution in Scotland (and there really wasn’t a heated desire in Wales).

    Even if he’d agreed to offer it, he could’ve had the Labour Party not be so rahrahrah about it and deliver the crucial winning votes in Wales.

    I too wish to make plain that these are minor quibbles and that he’s a despicable twat of the highest order. As was his predecessor, as will be his successor.

    He came in on a wave of relief that we were getting rid of an arrogant government (Blair had 93% approval rating in 97, if I’m not mistaken the highest for any elected leader anywhere ever).

    Stick any of us in that job and we’d do the same. Concentrations of power lead to one thing. It’s not the politician, it’s the structures they inhabit that are the problem.

  6. sakthi said:

    Blair has the nice gentlemen image in most of the countries before he joined with Bush for Iraq war,His act with Bush on Iraq war affected his image considerably…
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