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20 February 2014

Even as a Blairite, I’m tired of defending Blair

Labour’s serial election winner may have finally found an enemy who is capable of destroying him: himself.

By Stephen Bush

At a televised town hall meeting shortly before the 2010 Congressional elections, Democratic supporter Velma Hart told President Obama that she was “exhausted of defending you, defending your administration…and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.”

I know how she feels.

In 1997, my school was falling down. In 2007, I was offered a place at Oxford University. In the decade between, I saw the local housing estate be completely rebuilt and I heard my teacher tell the school bully that there was nothing wrong with being gay. I attended a civil partnership and I watched Northern Ireland go from breaking news to a peaceful settlement.

So I’m never going to get exhausted of defending Tony Blair’s administration, but I am increasingly tired of defending Tony Blair, and I’m disappointed, too, with where we are right now. I’m not, to be honest, particularly exercised about what Tony Blair says to Rebekah Brooks – everyone’s got at least one slightly dodgy mate –  but I am angry that the man who is quite rightly hailed as a hero in Kosovo for standing up to a brutal dictator now takes money from another brutal dictator in Kazakhstan. I don’t understand why the man who led a government that was more redistributive than Clement Attlee’s now runs a foundation that won’t pay its interns.

These ought to be boom years for Tony Blair; David Cameron’s brutal and incompetment administration is a living rebuke to those who claimed that there was no difference between New Labour and unrestrained Conservatism. The institutions and services that people are now rallying to defend against the coalition’s axe are, for the most part, ones that were set up by Blair’s government. Abroad, too, the events of the last seven years should have restored and strengthened Blair’s reputation. Iraq is a running sore, but Western leaders have now stress-tested whether or not you can have regime change without outside intervention, and the bloody lesson from Syria, Bahrain, Libya and Egypt is that if the incumbent controls the military and has no inclination to leave freely, then you do not get regime change. But who do latter-day supporters of a foreign policy that puts freedom and democracy at the heart of Britain’s dealings in the Middle East find supporting the military junta in Egypt? Tony Blair.

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In office, Blair was blessed in his opponents, who were mostly either odious, like George Galloway, inadequate a la Hague, or, in the case of Iain Duncan Smith, both. In retirement, though, Labour’s serial election winner may have finally found an enemy who is capable of destroying him: himself. Instead of developing the stature of a British Bill Clinton, he instead taking on many of the worst features of the post-White House Clinton; the sinister associates, the dirty money, and a party that, instead of lauding him as a saviour, begins to regard him as, at best, a slightly embarrassing elderly relative.

It has taken eight years of the worst and most right-wing President in American history, and a further six years of progressive rule dominated by conservative instrangience for the Democrats to truly let the Clintons into their hearts again. Blair seems determined to ensure that even twenty years of Boris Johnson in Number Ten may not be enough to save him.