Does Tony Blair deserve his knighthood? Having been prime minister for ten years (1997-2007) and masterminded the New Labour revolution, there’s no denying that Blair has long deserved one if we are to offer gongs by default to the UK’s prime ministers.
But 14 years since he left office, public opinion is uncharacteristically resentful of this former leader. Normally, the more time passes, the more nostalgic, wistful and forgiving the public tends to be of past incumbents. But in Blair’s case, nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s a man who, to this day, not only divides voters but actively antagonises them.
A snap poll by YouGov found that just 14 per cent of voters approved of Blair’s knighthood, while 63 per cent opposed it, including 56 per cent of Labour voters and 55 per cent of those who voted Remain in the 2016 EU referendum.
And while I don’t have the data to hand, I’d wager that the level of opposition to gongs for Gordon Brown, David Cameron, or even the late Margaret Thatcher, would not be quite so high. A significant portion of voters remain enthusiastic about Thatcher and her legacy. She has had cheerleaders who have served as subsequent prime ministers. Nearly half of the Tory party’s own supporters rank her as the UK’s best postwar PM. Just 10 per cent of Labour supporters say the same of Blair.
During the EU referendum campaign, some 63 per cent of UK voters said they wouldn’t trust a word that came out of Blair’s mouth about Europe.
Such statistics don’t bode well for the political comeback that Blair is sometimes rumoured to aspire to, but what of his own side? The Labour Party’s membership has undergone radical change since Blair’s departure as leader in 2007, but he can take heart from the fact he’s just as popular as the last guy. Which is to say, not very popular at all.
Labour’s membership (as of 2021) has a favourable view of Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband. A similar number approve of the postwar prime minister Clement Attlee and the current leader, Keir Starmer, but in the case of Jeremy Corbyn and Blair, the party is split. Just over half of Labour’s own membership holds a favourable view of the two leaders, even though one oversaw three successive election victories, and the other, well, didn’t.
Such is the Labour Party’s attitude to Blair. He’s not popular and, unlike the less successful Gordon Brown, his political interventions are rarely welcomed. His knighthood, meanwhile, has gone down like a cup of cold sick with the country at large.
But Blair, who became less preoccupied with popularity as his premiership progressed, simply may no longer care.