In praise of… Tony Blair

by Stephen Tall on August 18, 2010

I voted for Tony Blair as Labour leader in 1994; I voted for him again to become Labour prime minister in 1997. I soon learned my lesson.

As Prime Minister, he failed. Not so much domestically: sure, he disappointed but show me a political leader who doesn’t.

But in foreign policy, Mr Blair was an unmitigated disaster, the most incompetent post-war Prime Minister bar none (yes, even worse than Anthony Eden).

His intentions are irrelevant: the results of his – and it was his – decision to wage war against Iraq have made Britain and the world less safe at huge cost to human life, both in Iraq and here in the UK. It was tragically calamitous, and nothing can excuse or exempt him from the judgement of history.

However, I applaud without reserve his decision to donate the royalties from his forthcoming memoir, A Journey, to the Royal British Legion.

As Ian Leslie’s superb Marbury blog notes:

Blair’s decision to give away several million pounds to charity is interpreted – paradoxically – as yet more evidence of his greed, allowing the media to recycle lipsmacking speculations about his supposedly Saudi-style riches. The Telegraph puts his post-office income at £20m; even you take that plucked-from-the-ether figure seriously, you might still consider the fact that he’s just given a quarter of it away to be mildly impressive. …

Then there are the accusations this is mere “spin” – yes, every moth-eaten cliche has been dragged out for another outing. But this is, as scientists say, unfalsifiable – how could he have done this without it being interpreted as such? By donating privately, maybe, though I’m not sure that would have been possible, and anyway, the more public acts of charity the better, in my view; it encourages the others (I wonder if George Bush will feel compelled to follow suit).

Does Mr Blair’s decision to donate millions to charity wipe clean the slate? No. Does it un-do the untold damage he helped create? No.

But will it help people in need who are alive today? Yes. A thousand times yes.

What right have we, as armchair critics, to tell beneficiaries of the Royal British Legion’s work, “Tough: we think Tony was wrong, so tell him to stick his money”? They put their lives on the line: I didn’t. I have less than zero right to assume the moral high-ground here.

As the fundraising cliche (variously attributed to the Salvation Army, an Oxford sociologist and a dramatist of Mother Teresa’s life) goes:

‘We will take your dirty money, and make it clean!’

I have no doubt the Royal British Legion will make good use of Tony Blair’s money, and that the lives of injured soldiers will be made better as a direct result. That’s something; which is better than nothing.