Saturday, October 03, 2009

Tony Blair's Tender Legacy

As alluded to in part one of Michael Cockerell's Tony Blair: the Inside Story, many politicians spend a great deal of time and energy concerning themselves with their legacy.

Unfortunately for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he will very likely share a legacy with US President George W Bush. It likely will not be an entirely positive one.

Like George W Bush, Blair's departure from office was mired by tension with his successor. Just as Bush's departure from office has been mired by increasing tensions with his Vice President, Dick Cheney -- who believed Bush had stopped taking his advice during their second term -- Blair's final days were marked by tensions beteween himself and Gordon Brown, his Chancellor of the Exchequer.

For Bush and Cheney, the matter was clearly the war on terror. For Blair and Brown, the issue was the prospects of Britain replacing Pounds Sterling with the Euro as Britain's currency. Blair favoured this, and Brown did not.

Like Bush, Blair's legacy will be decided by whether or not he led his country to war under false pretenses. Like Bush, Blair's legacy will be impacted by personal controversy. For Bush, a lingering controversy was the outing of CIA agent Valeri Plame. For Bush, the lingering controversy was the suicide of Dr David Kelly, a British arms inspector who had been accused of helping falsify evidence justifying the war.

Like Bush, Blair's efforts to reform the civil service badly backfired. There was a palpable backlash against Blair's proposed reforms for hospitals and schools. Meanwhile, Bush led a dismantling of regulatory economic agencies that eventually helped precipitate a global economic recession. Bush's educational and health care reforms were widely lampooned. At one point, Bush even vetoed a Democrat bill that would supply health care to millions of uninsured children.

Like Bush, Blair left office amidst a push within his own party to minimize its association with him. While Brown worked behind the scenes to collectively push and shame Blair out of office, Bush failed to show up to his own party convention in order to best keep his distance from Presidential nominee John McCain.

Like Bush, Blair was viewed as a liability to his party. In a 2005 election that proved to be a significant setback for his party, Blair was targeted by the opposition Conservative party of Britain as an individual who had lied to take Britain to war in Iraq, and would lie to win an election. Bush was encouraged to stay as far away from the 2008 federal election campaign as he could in order to avoid associating McCain too closely with Bush.

(These efforts were mitigated when McCain hugged Bush at a political rally.)

Like Bush, Blair's time in office was marked by a savage terrorist attack. For Bush, 9/11 eventually wound up writing the story of his time as President. For Blair, 7/7 will be central to his legacy. Unlike Bush, however, who led his country to war partially as a retaliation for a terrorist attack, 7/7 could be viewed as a retaliation for Britain's involvement in Iraq.

Just as Bush's government had received ample warnings about the impending 9/11 attacks, Blair's government had received numerous warnings about the "inevitable" attacks that finally came to fruition on 7/7.

Like Bush, Blair led his party into office as a well-organized political machine, ready to do its country's business. Like Bush, by the time Blair departed, his party was in shambles, with its premier political opposition -- in this case, the David Cameron-led British Tories -- poised to knock them off in the next election.

For a man who came to power at the head of an overwhelming Parliamentary majority, Blair must be very disappointed to look back at his time in office and see such a disappointing record.

Blair came to office as a "destined" Prime Minister, with big hopes and huge expectations to live up to. Like many such leaders, the dizzying heights of his expectations could only be matched by the dispirting depths of disappointment.

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