Tony Blair: An Appreciation
by Sean Gabb
March 15, 2003

I may, during the past six years, have let my readers believe that I regarded Tony Blair with the utmost loathing and contempt. This is unfortunate, I now realise, and I wish here to pay full respect to his many great achievements as our Prime Minister. To be specific, Mr Blair has achieved the following:

He has made it permanently unlikely that we shall ever join the Euro – indeed, that we shall long retain our membership of the European Union. If we do not leave out of disappointment at the lack of French and German support for our efforts in the Persian Gulf, we may find ourselves ejected on the quite proper grounds that we are not nor ever can be good Europeans. He may have ended our "special relationship" with the United States. Whatever shall be the outcome of this present one, I am not sure if the Americans will ever again so implicitly count on our support in their various military adventures, or we on what some regard as their friendship. He has helped to destroy the unity and credibility of NATO. It may have been the French who refused to allow the dispatch of military aid to Turkey, but it was Mr Blair who wanted the war with Iraq to be conducted at least in part through NATO.

He has helped make the United Nations into a joke. Again, it has been the French who have paralysed that body, but it was Mr Blair who wanted action to be taken through it, and it was then he who declared that its veto would be ignored if it did not vote exactly as required. Few institutions can survive that sort of blow to their moral authority. He has split his government and his party, turning Labour from an unassailable electoral force into a rump of terrified loyalists and a mob shouting for his head.

In short, he may have achieved just about all the foreign policy objectives of any government that I might form. Some people, I know, regard British isolation in world affairs as a misfortune and a bitter humiliation. I regard it, however, as a thoroughly desirable state of affairs. The United Nations, NATO, and the European Union are all parts of a frightening New World Order run by bureaucrats and police chiefs. As for the Government of the United States, it is not our friend, and we shall be better off to have with it the same closeness of relationship as we have with the Government of Peru.

Had I been Prime Minister in his place, I might have achieved all this in ways more friendly than Mr Blair has. I should certainly have preserved better relations with the European countries, and not so greatly have disappointed the Americans. But let praise be given where due. He seems at the moment to be detaching us from a set of generally inconvenient entanglements. To call forth my praise for him as the best Prime Minister in foreign affairs since Lord Salisbury, he only needs now to withdraw all our forces from the Persian Gulf and then resign before he can do anything in his domestic politics to make me change my mind. Here ends my rather feeble attempt at irony. Mr Blair may have achieved these things – certainly, I hope he has – but none of them has been by act of deliberate policy. All is instead the effect of his own reckless miscalculation. He seems to have thought a war with Iraq would be just like his war with Serbia. He never thought he would fail to carry opinion with him at home or abroad. He is like a gambler whose run of luck ends just before the biggest bet of all.

The crisis is not over, and he may yet pull off a nasty surprise. But this does not seem likely at the moment. The main question being discussed in the railway carriage around me is how long he can survive. Will he resign in simple disgrace? Or will he be effectively sacked by the Queen? In the next week or so, she is needed to sign certain Orders in Council. In all previous wars since the emergence of cabinet government, the Monarch has signed these as a matter of course. But will Her Majesty feel bound to accept the advice of a Prime Minister who has an approval rating in the country of 15 per cent for his war, who cannot count on a majority of his own followers in Parliament, and whose Cabinet is visibly disintegrating around him? She could easily claim constitutional licence for refusing his advice – just as she did in February 1974 when she refused to let Edward Heath negotiate a coalition with the Liberals, and in October 1992 when she refused to let John Major threaten his Maastricht rebels with a second general election in six months. That would finish him. One of the nice things about the British Constitution is that its working is purely conventional, and these conventions can be set aside when circumstances require. Perhaps she will refrain from delivering the killing blow, in the reasonably expectation that events will do the work for her. But it would be at least entertaining to see the man who so famously declared war on "the forces of conservatism" destroyed by their greatest embodiment.

As said, the crisis is not yet over. But if only Mr Blair can be somehow prevented from getting this country into an unnecessary and therefore an unjust war, I shall be content and more than content with the turn that events have taken since the end of last year. As I look at Mr Blair's sagging, frightened face on the television, and when I review all his acts over the past nine years since he became leader of his party, I am reminded of a passage from Chateaubriand:

"There are two consequences in history: one immediate and instantaneously recognized; the other distant and unperceived at first. These consequences often contradict each other; the former comes from our short-run wisdom, the latter from our long-run wisdom. The providential event appears after the human event. Behind men rises God. Deny as much as you wish the Supreme Wisdom, do not believe in its action, dispute over words, call what the common man calls Providence 'the force of circumstances' or 'reason'; but look to the end of an accomplished fact, and you will see that it has always produced the opposite of what was expected when it has not been founded from the first on morality and justice."

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Sean Gabb is a libertarian writer.

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