Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the UK, has used the Pandemic as a portal through which he has made a tentative leap back into the heart of Westminster. The 10-year political veteran is rumoured to have given counsel to the Health Department over the vaccine rollout, whilst engaging in countless interviews across an array of British media outlets. Blair is a political heavyweight, having spent 10 years in Downing Street, he swiftly transcended into the Middle Eastern Peace envoy and attempted to broker deals between Israel and Palestine. Whether you like him or not, his political career is extensive, impressive and he attracts journalist’s attention.
Blair’s government was criticised for being the archetypal ‘revolving door’ whereby senior civil service employees would leave government for lucrative jobs in the private sector. Blair himself embraced such opportunities, through public speaking and advisory positions, the most profitable of which brought him £240,000 in China for a one-day conference, and an advisory role for J.P. Morgan that amounted to one million pounds in three hours whilst brokering a private corporation take over. However, has Blair now travelled the full road of the revolving door and been delivered back to mainstream politics?
His interviews with Forbes, Sky, BBC and the Daily Mail over vaccine distributions gives a nostalgic reminder of his political authority and statesmanlike personality. He is in the unique situation whereby he enjoys significant political influence whilst not having to actually implement policy or face major scrutiny. This exclusive situation enables him to be decisive and firm in interviews over his policy suggestions, providing a stark contrast between himself and Boris Johnson who has been consistently criticised for dither and delay. Blair’s confidence in his own policies remain unwavering and he acts on his own opinions, the bolshie and assertive nature of his recent interviews are reminiscent of how he conducted his ‘rubber stamp’ cabinets that Clare Short, former Blair cabinet member, described as a meeting of ‘little’ chats. Earlier this year he urged Boris Johnson to make Britain head up ‘inevitable’ vaccine passports and to use Britain’s considerable influence in foreign policy to mediate and oversee such developments. Blair’s resurface angered Matt Hancock, who accused the former Prime Minister of ‘pinching’ his Covid-19 ideas to pass off as his own, according to the Daily Mail. Blair isn’t pulling any shots and openly endorsed Vaccine passports; an idea the government seems uneasy about implementing, depicts a strong tenacity and determination to be part of the UK’s pandemic response.
Blair is clearly pleased with his rebirth. According to close aids, he reportedly reflected on his return as a ‘De-Gaulle style comeback’. De Gaulle was nicknamed the ‘father of Europe’, he enjoyed a popular and successful stint in European politics before disappearing from the limelight in 1946. After a decade of absence, he staged an explosive return and became President of France for 10 years. Unfortunately for Blair, if thinks he is the De Gaulle of Britain, I believe he may be slightly deluded.
When the public think of Blair and his legacy, one word comes to mind – Iraq. Despite his exceptional work in education and social care, Blair’s legacy is defined by his invasion of Iraq in pursuit of Weapons of Mass Destruction, that he had repeatedly claimed to exist, but the world never saw. The media haven’t let the public forget this scandal and films like ‘Official Secrets’ illuminate the true extent behind Blair’s coercion and manipulation of the public to gain support for his oil-motivated invasion. Yougov polls sit Blair with a feeble 19% popularity rating and the 14th most popular Labour politician, Jeremy Corbyn and John Prescott both outrank Blair here, despite the latter’s infidelity scandal with his secretary.
It is also hard to work out what camp Blair would find comfort in during post-Brexit politics. Brexiteers think of him as the man who ignored Eurosceptics and kept them in Europe, whilst liberals despise his foreign policy legacy. His post-office premiership has attracted significant scrutiny. Accusations of him having used his time in office to illegally ascertain corrupt contacts to broker deals for his private company, Tony Blair Institute, are rife. Blair is not the Churchill he apparently believes himself to be. Whilst still well known, latest YouGov poll suggests 95% of the country have heard of him, his failures overshadow his victories, and his career is too muddied to ever take a seat in central politics again.
I personally don’t mind the fiscal aspect of Blair’s post-office legacy. He was prime minister for 10 years and so it is unsurprising that he gets large cheques to appear at conventions. In America, this is rudimentary for former Presidents, not outlandish. What I do find confusing is Blair’s apparent belief that he maintains a significant support base in the public. I believe that the sitting prime minister should use their predecessors as sources of advice in times of crisis, but former prime ministers should not exploit crisis to claw back political currency. Tony Blair has 10 years-worth of experience in Downing Street and I am sure he would be an asset in appropriate circumstances, but for him to suggest that he is the De Gaulle of British politics is an overstep and one that the polls simply do not support.