We might not remember it, beyond Mini Milks and the Teletubbies, but for the generation before ours the spring of ’97 heralded the end of a long, dark Tory winter that had lasted for almost two decades. Out of the shadows had sprung a bright-eyed Labour leader. The youngest Prime Minister since 1812 – his hair was still brown – and in touch with the people, Tony Blair promised a bright future for a population whose discomfort with the declining state had reached boiling point. Promising a minimum wage, human rights and a new, honest, people’s government, the possibilities seemed endless for Britain.
It all started off so well. In his first term, Tony signed the Good Friday agreement, ending decades of violence in Northern Ireland, equalised the age of consent for homosexual sex, introduced the Human Rights Act as promised and, thankfully, steered us away from the Euro. Tony seemed to be the purveyor of liberal sense that he had promised in his campaign.
It wasn’t all peachy, though. It was in this term that Blair granted independence for the Bank of England, to much praise from the financial leadership in London, who the party had courted much support from during the 1990s. While accompanied by the maintenance of Conservative expenditure estimates for two years, this seemed to be an indicator of fiscal prudence. However, it was the first in a long line of fiscal policies and deregulation that culminated in one of the deepest recessions the country has ever faced. Conveniently, this occurred after Tony left office.
It was in his second term that things rapidly started spiralling downwards for this particular right hon. True, we should have seen what was coming. While in opposition, Labour had heavily criticised the Conservatives’ slow movement over Bosnia. In his first term, Blair had given the speech that established the now-infamous ‘Blair doctrine’ for international intervention, which explained his rapid and award-winning movement into the civil wars of both Kosovo and Sierra Leone.
However, it was his involvement in the ‘War on Terror’ that has come to define Blair as a Prime Minister and a political villain. Despite being faced with one of the largest protests in British history, attended by up to 400,000 people, Blair decided to join the US in invading Iraq in 2003 on the basis of questionable evidence of WMDs. This, coupled with his earlier entry into Afghanistan, led to Blair becoming known as George W. Bush’s ‘poodle’, which is a deep insult to poodles the world over. The relationship was so appreciated in the US that Blair one several national awards.
This unpopular action, alongside the somewhat shadowy behaviour that accompanied it, came to define Blair’s governmental tactics over his remaining years in office. Since resigning, Blair has raked in funds from speaking engagements and has become an apparent expert on the Middle East.
Just this week, however, the legacies of his time in office have hit the headlines again. It was Blair’s government that instigated the kind of cosy relationship between government and press that Leveson blew apart. In light of this, his offer to provide advice to Rebekah Brooks over phone hacking in 2011 seems unsurprising. His suggestion that she launch a ‘Hutton style’ inquiry into it is more worrying, given that it again raises questions about the veracity of the inquiry that cleared his government of wrongdoing over the Iraq evidence, with tragic consequences.
It is because Tony Blair could be the blueprint for good intentions corrupted by power that he is my political villain. It’s not all doom and gloom though; the Americans still absolutely adore our Mr Blair and given his new found love of a good tan, I’m sure the feelings are mutual.