SIR ANTHONY CHARLES LYNTON “TONY” BLAIR
Perhaps recalled as a dapper sophisticate ala Jack Kennedy or Bill Clinton, former United Kingdom Prime Minister the Right Honourable Sir Tony Blair served in that role from 1997 to 2007 and leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007. Upon his resignation he was appointed Special Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, a foursome of nations involved in mediating peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians. He held this diplomatic post until 2015. Since 2016 he has been executive chairman of The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, a nonprofit organization that proclaims its ambition as being to help make globalization work for the many, not the few.
Born in 1953 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Blair graduated from St. John’s College, Oxford, and the Inns of Court School of Law.
As prime minister, many of Blair’s policies reflected a centrist “Third Way” political philosophy. He is the only living former Labour leader to have led the party to a general election victory and one of only two in history, the other being Harold Wilson, to form three majority governments. Under Blair, the party used the phrase “New Labour” to distance itself from previous Labour politics and the traditional idea of socialism. Despite opposition from Labour’s left-wing, he abolished the party’s commitment to the nationalization of the economy, weakened trade union influence, and committed to the free market and the European Union. In 1997, the Labour Party won its largest landslide general election victory in its history. Blair became the country’s youngest leader since 1812 and remains the party’s longest-serving occupant of the office.
Blair also created the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in 2009, formally separating it from the judicial function of the House of Lords. The Court has 12 members. Interestingly, however, the law allows an increase in the number of judges if a resolution is passed in both Houses of Parliament.
During most of his tenure in public life, Blair enjoyed wide admiration and respect. This has recently been marred by a petition, signed by over a million Britons, to deny Blair a knighthood awarded by the Queen on January 1 of this year.
The petition, posted on the change.org website, says Sir Tony “caused irreparable damage to both the constitution of the United Kingdom and to the very fabric of the nation’s society” while in office. “He was personally responsible for causing the death of countless innocent, civilian lives and servicemen in various conflicts. For this alone he should be held accountable for war crimes,” it adds, saying “Tony Blair is the least deserving person of any public honour, particularly anything awarded by Her Majesty the Queen.”
As British casualties mounted during the Iraq War, Blair was accused of misleading Parliament, and his popularity dropped dramatically. He risked his political career by offering the Bush administration unwavering support for military action, and paid dearly when three members of his cabinet resigned in protest. During the summer of 2013, critics accused Blair of exaggerating Iraq’s weapons capabilities to justify his case for war. Blair stood by his intelligence reports, including one that stated Hussein could launch biological and chemical weapons in 45 minutes. The prime minister faced additional criticism in July, after David Kelly, a former weapons inspector in Iraq, committed suicide shortly after testifying before the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs about whether he told a BBC reporter that the British government had “sexed up” intelligence documents about Iraq’s arsenal. In his August testimony in the inquiry into Kelly’s death, Blair said he would have resigned if the BBC report had been true.
There was much criticism of Blair–and George Bush–about the Iraq War. In July 2016 a report by Sir John Chilcot (a British civil servant appointed head of the Iraq inquiry in 2009) criticized Blair over 14 specific points: (1) the UK chose to join the invasion before peaceful options had been exhausted, (2) Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, (3) Blair promised George Bush: ’I will be with you, whatever’, (4) the decision to invade was made in unsatisfactory circumstances, (5) George Bush largely ignored UK advice on postwar planning, (6) there was no imminent threat from Saddam, (7) Britain’s intelligence agencies produced ‘flawed information’, (8) the UK military were ill-equipped for the task, (9) UK-US relations would not have been harmed if UK stayed out of war, (10) Blair ignored warnings on what would happen in Iraq after invasion, (11) the government had no post-invasion strategy, (12) the UK had no influence on Iraq’s postwar US-run administration, (13) the UK did not achieve its objectives in Iraq, and (14) the government did not try hard enough to keep a tally of Iraqi civilian casualties.
In an interview in 2017, Chilcot explained his belief in Blair’s motives as follows: the evidence Blair gave the inquiry was “emotionally truthful” but he relied on beliefs rather than facts.
On the other side of the argument, IrishCentral.com has this to say (Jan. 14, 2022), focusing on a different area of Blair’s term in office:
Tony Blair earned his knighthood in Northern Ireland. There have been but two consequential British prime ministers in modern times — Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. The rest have been a grab bag of nonentities in various guises. Even a cursory look at Blair’s overall record in power from 1997 to 2007 shows those years were transformative in Britain and in Ireland too. The British people seemed to agree. Two of Blair’s victories were landslides and his final one was a comfortable win.
In any context, Blair compares well with others who held the office. . . . Blair’s political instincts were far ahead of his contemporaries. Take former Prime Minister David Cameron, for instance, who ordered up a vote on Brexit without even checking with his supporters how they really felt about leaving Europe. Cameron’s anti-Brexit majority disappeared on polling night, leaving Britain in a state of open warfare ever since. He resigned in disgrace.
Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, was both for and against Brexit given the time of day or the weather and proved a hopeless leader. Now Boris Johnson, a clown and buffoon whose tired act is finally grating on the British electorate, has never met a can he doesn’t kick down the road, or a lie he cannot embellish, including numerous ones on his commitment to the Northern Ireland Brexit Protocol.
We should think very highly of Blair on the issue of Northern Ireland. In addition to bringing in a national U.K. minimum wage and reforming the National Health Service, his work on Northern Ireland was actually his crowning achievement.