A Yougov poll yesterday suggested that former Prime Minister Tony Blair would be more than twice as popular as current Labour leader Ed Miliband if he were to make a political comeback. Despite the fact that Blair won three general elections and remained a largely popular figure throughout his tenure, these statistics surprised me, as it seems hard to find anybody today who remains supportive of Labour’s longest-serving Prime Minister.
To the left, Mr Blair is a disgrace and a sell-out who embraced the worst excesses of Thatcherism and forged a dangerous alliance with a stridently right-wing administration in Washington. Likewise, the right see him as a big-government social democrat who is responsible for the smoking ban, the hunting ban and open-door mass immigration.
I share many of the standard conservative concerns about Tony Blair’s domestic legacy, but yet I cannot join the throngs of critics who recoil at the very mention of the former Prime Minister’s name. With regards to foreign policy, Blair has continuously been on the right side of the argument from the conflicts in the Balkans in the late-1990s to the spread of hardline Islam in the Middle East.
His recent comments regarding the current violence in Iraq have attracted much scorn and vitriol, some of which has even come from his former cabinet ministers. Clare Short, who famously resigned from the cabinet over the Iraq War and subsequently left the Labour Party, has described her former boss as a ‘complete American neocon,’ whilst John Prescott, Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister for the entirety of his premiership, has said that Blair wants to go ‘back to the Crusades.’
However, such criticism is not restricted to those on the left. The Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie rather tastelessly compared the former Prime Minister to the infamous mass murderer Harold Shipman, whilst UKIP leader Nigel Farage has declared that ‘the West should declare an end to the era of military intervention abroad.’ Likewise, London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote a stinging personal attack in the staunchly conservative Telegraph describing the Iraq War as a ‘tragic mistake’ and questioning Mr Blair’s sanity.
One has to wonder whether such figures would be so critical of the Iraq War if it had been a Conservative Prime Minister who had authorised the invasion. I wholeheartedly believe that much of the vitriol from the right such as the comments of Mayor Johnson are merely the result of an opportunistic and deeply partisan desire to have a go at Labour’s most successful Prime Minister and to tarnish his political legacy. However, it is refreshing that the wider Conservative Party have resisted giving in to this temptation; Downing Street have refused to comment on Mr Blair’s intervention, whilst several senior Conservatives such as Foreign Secretary William Hague and former Defence Secretary Liam Fox have reaffirmed their support for the 2003 invasion.
Despite the intense level of scorn his comments have attracted, Blair is right to maintain that today’s problems in Iraq are not the inevitable consequences of the Anglo-American invasion orchestrated by himself and President Bush. He pointed to the violence in Syria, where a similar situation of civil war has emerged even though their dictator is still firmly in power. It is therefore foolish to assume that if Saddam Hussein were still in power there would be peace and stability in Iraq today.
Mr Blair is also right to point out the threats that Islamic extremists in the Middle East pose to the Western world. Many of the terrorists who form the militant group ISIS are British and American radicals who could return home, leading to terrorists attacks on the streets of London, Washington and New York.
Critics may angrily shout about the ‘warmongerer’ Tony Blair, but he is the only senior British politician who is proposing potential action plans for Iraq. David Cameron has been noticeably silent in recent days, and anti-Blair figures such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have simply trotted out the usual non-interventionist mantras. If we are to help the Iraqi people and minimise the terror threat at home, we could do a lot worse than to actually listen to what our former PM has to say.
Also published on my personal blog: http://georgereeves1994.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/scorned-by-left-and-right-yet-tony.html