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A reason to buy Tony Blair’s book

2010 August 31
by Paul Vallely

So have you stumped up your £25 for the Tony Blair book?  I feel I ought to buy it, since Mr Blair is not allowing it to be serialised in the newspapers on the grounds that they will only highlight the wrong bits – though presumably the news reporters will do that anyway.  The trouble is that if I bought it I’d feel obliged to read all 624 pages and life is too short.

If I’m truthful I already know what I think about Tony Blair and don’t suspect the detail will substantially alter it. Perhaps it’s closed minds like mine which are the problem. It’s pretty clear that there are a lot of other minds around which are not going to be changed.

That much was clear from the indignation over Mr Blair’s announcement that he will give all the profits from the book to a British Legion rehabilitation centre for wounded soldiers. Bloody-money to appease the conscience of a lying, war-mongering, money-grubber, said his more moderate opponents who, ingeniously, saw the £4m+ donation as some kind of tax dodge by the Blair Rich Project. He should have donated anonymously, some proclaimed. But doubtless if he had there would have been lurid press speculation about which mystery body had received a massive secret donation once the newshounds had trawled through his accounts. No motive is too low to be imputed to his terrible man, it seems.

All of this leaves me feeling bewildered. Yes, he was wrong about Iraq. A hundred thousand civilians died. Millions were turned to refugees. A political stalemate has been created. The country could well slide into civil war when the Americans leave.  And it has left the power of an unpredictable Iran unchecked in the region. It was a disaster on almost every count.

But on the other hand Tony Blair  brought peace to murderous places like Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland. His Commission for Africa and Gleneagles summit brought massive debt relief and significantly increased global aid flows. At home he introduced the minimum wage, built schools and sure start nurseries, cut class sizes and NHS waiting lists, and all the rest.

Whether Iraq outweighs all that is a matter for debate. But where is that debate? All we have instead is a vocal minority which attempts to rewrite history by constantly telling us what “most people” think about Mr Blair. They ignore the fact that he was re-elected after the invasion of Iraq and that, when he stood down, opinion polls said more people thought, on balance, that the country was better off under him than those who thought the opposite.

So why all the vitriolic Blair-baiting? Some of it is the disenchantment of those who were once in love. That is presumably why the Daily Mirror can allow a columnist to write: “Tony Blair should amputate a limb and give that to the British Legion” and one in the Daily Mail can note “there is a long tradition of big crooks giving big to charity”.  Both papers were once notable Blair-enthusiasts.

But some of it is pretty mindless internet bile like “this disgusting individual did nothing for Britain except get a lot of young people killed so that he could make himself rich”. One, bizarrely, said the Blair years were “like the Third Reich all over again”. There is an emotional groupthink at work here bordering on, and sometimes tipping over into, an infectious hysteria, as there was with the woman who dropped a cat into a wheelie bin.

My colleague John Rentoul has written interestingly about what he calls the socio-pathology of Blair-rage and concluded that it is, at root, a form of self-hatred. That is too deep for me. But it perhaps explains why, on the day that his book was published in the UK, Tony Blair flew abroad where people have a more balanced view about his failings and achievements.

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