Tony Blair is potentially the contentious politician in contemporary British politics. Those uninterested or disillusioned in politics can still say they know Tony Blair for his involvement in the Iraq war. It may come as a surprise then, to hear that this post is not about the intricacies of British military action during his terms as prime minister, but rather a question of whether his controversial military intervention can fully overshadow any successes he incurred as prime minister.
Tony Blair was elected Labour Party Leader in 1994 following the sudden death of the former leader, John Smith. He used the slogan ‘New Labour’ to distance it from the previous, somewhat unsuccessful labour policies and traditional conception of socialism. In 1997, he won the general election with a landslide victory, on his own accord. This election landslide was the largest known in history, which allowed a 43-year-old Tony Blair to become the youngest Prime minister since 1812. Following the tragedy that was the death of ‘the people’s princess’, Princess Diana, Blair received a public rating of 93%. The Labour Party, under Blair, won three elections: 1997, 2001 and 2005. He stepped down as prime minister and Labour Party Leader in 2007, following 10 years in Downing Street and remains the only Labour Prime Minister to win three consecutive elections and lose none.
It is by no whim that Mr Blair had continued support during his time as prime minister, as he was re-elected time and time again, so it is safe to assume enough of the British public were to some degree satisfied at the very least, with the work he was doing as prime minister. Either that, or the British are fickle and unoriginal, but hey, at any rate WE don’t seem to have a Kim Kardashian on our shores… Blair’s strategy was working; the people sought to get that ‘modern’ Britain Blair was all about.
It must be said that his greatest achievement was the realisation that competition encourages innovation, and pushes towards improvement. His reforms on education and healthcare was met with mild dislike among some party members but he fought every step of the way.
His greatest controversy, aside from the Blair-Brown “hiccup”, was his foreign policy, namely Iraq. His support for President George W Bush in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 sparked protests in London which spread like wildfire through the city and through to various parts of England. This was the most disputed foreign policy decision since Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister in 1965, decided the British soldiers would invade Egypt. This decision led 139 of Blair’s own MP’s to oppose him, a divide which still stands today in the labour party between “Blairites” and “Corbynists”. It was a choice made without a UN mandate and caused opposition not only domestically, but globally too.
Even at the beginning of the Iraq War, Tony Blair supported the foreign policy of President George W. Bush, with no restraints, and was eager to help in the participation of both the invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and the invasion of Iraq (2003).
In 2009, Blair stated that he would have supported removing Saddam Hussein from power even in the face of proof that he had no weapons of ‘mass destruction’. To Blair, Saddam was a “monster and I believe he threatened not just the region but the world”. As he testified before the famous Iraq Inquiry in January 2010, Blair claimed that British and American attitude to Saddam Hussein had “changed dramatically” following the September 11 attacks. Blair denied that he would have supported the invasion of Iraq even if he had thought Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. He believed the world was safer because of the invasion.
It can be argued that these political events are so huge, they mark pivotal points in time. A period where the “special relationship” with America was questioned so deeply, and power abused from leaders championing a “free world” and so called “civilised” nations. This military action was unjustified, and committed by no dictators, but collaborated by popular leaders. The ripples, so to speak, caused by these actions will be felt for a long time, and is by no means settling now, whilst we are in the height of political unrest globally and the rise of extremism, terrorism and radicalisation.
But more to the point, to answer our initial question, we must deflect to Sir Winston Churchill. This generation will see him as an inspiration, a leader in a dark time in our history, but one only needs to open up the history books to see he was an intensely unpopular Prime Minister before and after the war, in fact, he was not re-elected after the war. He did not have the confidence of the British people, it seems. The public at the time of the war had a very different outlook, to the public today. Times change and so do attitudes, but perspective is vital. His brief stint of leadership during world war two, see today as an impressive feat, is today extrapolated throughout his entire career and life in the eyes of the public.
In short, he is defined by a few specific sets of actions in a brief, but dark time, whilst in the public domain. This too, I believe, can be applied to Tony Blair. When comparing his successes, they are much less well known today, years on from the Iraq war and the fall of Saddam Hussein. Much like Churchill and Saddam, Blair will most probably be tainted by a specific set of actions. In his case it was the war.