Friday marked the seventh anniversary of Tony Blair’s resignation as British prime minister after achieving unprecedented electoral success for his Labour Party, but those seven years have not been kind to his image.
As the country’s youngest prime minister in nearly two centuries, Mr. Blair’s political life was energized by the vigour of youth but, inevitably, it also assured him a long post-political career.
And it is here his reputation has imploded.
He went right to the top and has now fallen to the very bottom. It makes for a very tragic story
“Tony Blair had been as popular a prime minister as there has been. And now, he’s the most unpopular ex-prime minister ever,” said George Jones, emeritus professor of governance at the London School of Economics & Political Science.
“He went right to the top and has now fallen to the very bottom. It makes for a very tragic story.”
Criticism of Mr. Blair, increasingly vociferous and harsh, quickly went from a series of recurrent fender-benders to a full-on highway pile-up.
Attacked for his foibles and perceived hypocrisy, his hob-knobbing and jetsetting, his failure to accept mistakes in pushing for war in Iraq, his lack of accomplishment on the world stage as a peace envoy, he has been battered in recent weeks. He was even drawn into Britain’s phone-hacking scandal, with his advice to the accused, but ultimately acquitted, editor Rebekah Brooks read out in court, each text signed, as if he was ashamed, simply as X.
AP Photo/Lefteris PitarakisRebekah Brooks, former News International chief executive, arrives to talk to members of the media, in central London, Thursday, June 26, 2014. Brooks was acquitted after a long trial centreing on illegal activity at the heart of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire.
The attacks are as diverse as they are visceral.
Mr. Blair has been assailed from the left and the right, by political opponents and former allies, by those who have long despised him and by former close friends; he has been declared “mad,” “narcissistic,” a “megalomaniac” and a “pariah.” He has been attacked by the Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson — who said “Tony Blair has finally gone mad” — and his Labour predecessor, Ken Livingstone — who is calling for him to be fired as Middle East peace envoy.
“Mr. Blair is a pariah throughout this land, a megalomaniacal neo-colonialist adventurer with a Messiah complex turned rapacious money-grubbing rascal,” wrote British political columnist Matthew Norman.
Could there be a harsher indictment of the man once hailed as the Labour Party’s saviour?
A rare process of parliamentary impeachment has been launched in the House of Commons, even though Mr. Blair no longer holds public office. It could, theoretically, lead to his jailing.
LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty ImagesLondon Mayor Boris Johnson arrives for a meeting at Manchester Town Hall, north -west England on September 30, 2013.
While June 2007 marked his political demise, June 2014 seems to herald his personal downfall.
The anniversary of his departure from 10 Downing St. was ushered in by a public call for his removal as Middle East envoy, signed by a consortium of former diplomats, politicians and academics, led by Sir Richard Dalton, Mr. Blair’s former ambassador to Iran.
When Mr. Blair left the prime minister’s office, he immediately took on the role of envoy for the Quartet (the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia) involved in negotiating peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Many saw the post as a reward for his unwavering support of U.S. president George W. Bush and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty ImagesThen-Prime Minister Tony Blair meets with British soldiers on duty in Basra on Dec. 17, 2006 in Iraq.
The open letter to the Quartet calls for Mr. Blair’s firing “with immediate effect as a result of his poor performance in the role, and his legacy in the region as a whole.”
“In order to justify the invasion, Tony Blair misled the British people by claiming that Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaida,” adds the letter, whose signatories include Hani Faris of the University of British Columbia.
“In the wake of recent events it is a cruel irony for the people of Iraq that perhaps the invasion’s most enduring legacy has been the rise of fundamentalist terrorism in a land where none existed previously.”
It is more than past policy that prompted the call.
“After seven years, Mr. Blair’s achievements as envoy are negligible, even within his narrow mandate of promoting Palestinian economic development. Furthermore, the impression of activity created by his high-profile appointment has hindered genuine progress towards a lasting peace,” the letter says.
It also chastizes him for his “conduct in his private pursuits,” “a lack of transparency” in his business dealings and personal finances, and “for blurring the lines between his public position as envoy and his private roles at Tony Blair Associates and the investment bank JPMorgan Chase.”
(Among Mr. Blair’s post-politics positions is chairing the International Advisory Council of JP Morgan Chase, one of the U.S.’s largest banking institutions.)
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty ImagesFormer British prime minister and Middle East envoy Tony Blair visits Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, on March 1, 2009.
In response, Mr. Blair’s office said, “These are all people viscerally opposed to Tony Blair with absolutely no credibility in relation to him whatsoever.
“Their attack is neither surprising nor newsworthy. They include the alliance of hard right and hard left views which he has fought against all his political life.”
Mr. Blair’s interest in finance, rather than service, has also drawn the ire of his former friend, Robert Harris. In a recent magazine interview, the best-selling author said he was disappointed Mr. Blair “cut himself off from British democracy” so he could “hang out with a lot of rich people in America.”
“Who knew that he would … be so passionately interested in making money and live this strange life with the billionaire super-rich on yachts and private jets?” asked Mr. Harris.
It may all be puzzling to Mr. Blair.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesTony Blair waves on his return from his final Prime Minister’s question period on June 27, 2007 in London. Blair came to power in 1997 and in 10 years as Prime Minister won three general elections.
There was a time he seemed a political demigod. He seized the enviable, but often-elusive middle ground of being an erudite, charismatic leader of a left-wing party that was skewing right in all the popular places.
From the start, he aligned himself with the left.
After becoming a member of Parliament in 1983, he gave a rousing support for socialism in his first speech in the House of Commons, saying, “I am a socialist … because I believe that, at its best, socialism corresponds most closely to an existence that is both rational and moral.”
But after becoming Labour leader in 1994, he shifted to the centre and galvanized Britain with his New Labour reboot of the party. He became prime minister in 1997 in a landslide win over John Major’s Conservatives.
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty ImagesBaroness Margaret Thatcher, left, waits to greet the Queen beside then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie following a Remembrance Service commemorating 25 years since the Falklands Conflict at The Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel in Pangbourne, Berkshire, June 14, 2007.
As prime minister, he continued to shift the party’s ethos away from socialism and gained a global profile with his staunch support of the U.S after the 2001 terror attacks.
He brought unprecedented success to Labour, winning three majority governments and becoming second only to Margaret Thatcher as the longest-serving prime minister of the last century.
Now, his legacy is increasingly tainted, perhaps irrevocably.
“His political legacy could have been a great one. His efforts in pursuing a resolution to the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland led to a peace agreement there,” H.A. Hellyer, an Egypt-based fellow with the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution in Washington, wrote recently.
CARL COURT/AFP/GettyImagesA protester holds a placard bearing the slogan “Bliar” as he demonstrates outside the High Court in central London, on May 28, 2012, as former British prime minister Tony Blair gives evidence at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics. The protesters set up outside the High Court with placards denoucing Blair and his role in sending British troops to join the 2003 war in Iraq.
“Instead, his legacy will forever be the disaster of the Iraq War and its aftermath in 2003 and onwards. This former leader of the Labour Party has become more right-wing than much of the mainstream right-wing would now dare to be publicly, which only encourages the far-right further.”
Prof. Jones maintains that much of the criticism is unjustifiably harsh.
“People have forgotten they once supported Tony Blair and cheered him on. He was the most successful Labour leader ever. He did more for the Labour Party than any other leader,” he said.
In that, no one can argue.
Regardless of history’s view on the war in Iraq, Mr. Blair’s 10 years and eight days in office, his political leanings and post-office activities, at least one legacy will remain: He knew how to win elections and win them big.
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