As America gears up to salute former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as the latest recipient of the prestigious Abraham Lincoln Prize for Leadership, Matt Roper wonders where and how the promises of the Blair government went so very badly awry…
One thing that gives me an enormous amount of pleasure when I’m whiling away precious hours spent in bookshops is to shift former UK Prime Minister and Labour party leader, Tony Blair's autobiography from the ‘politics’ section to the ‘crime’ section.
For the last twenty years of my life I’ve been exposed to the thoughts and words of certain politicians in much the same way that non-smokers are forced to inhale second-hand the poisons that smokers have exhaled. There is also no doubt in my mind that it is equally damaging to the greater good of one’s health.
This past week the Americans have decided to bestow Tony Blair with the Abraham Lincoln Leadership Prize and soon enough we’ll be subjected to the sight of him on our screens and in print once again, as he accepts his award with all the demeanour of some sort of wronged saint.
But I am one of those people who can remember when he was first elected into office during the later half of the ‘90s. Here was a man with a young family and a brilliant wife – a human rights lawyer, no less – coming into 10, Downing Street with new ideas to bring Britain bang up to date. ‘New Labour, New Britain’ was the promise and for a few years, the Blairites and their new government delivered.
With the election of Blair, for example, came 101 women members of parliament from the Labour Party taking their seats in the House of Commons – more women elected than ever before. There was a successful vote to finally ban the hunting of foxes, fur farming, and the testing of cosmetics on animals in the UK. New Labour placed a raise on the national minimum wage and finally, after decades of violence, a peace process was underway in Northern Ireland.
All radical, progressive, welcome stuff to a kid who’d grown up under the Thatcher administration and years and years – 17 of them in all – of Conservative Party rule. I’d known nothing else.
But when the UK took the decision to invade Iraq in a US-led invasion fifteen years ago, it was a little like watching that scene in the bar in From Dusk Till Dawn, where Salma Hayek and all the other employees turn into vampires without warning and murder most of the patrons. The game had changed totally unexpectedly and nobody could do a damn thing about it.
I don’t know if it’s power or popularity that proved to be so intoxicating to Tony Blair – probably a bit of both. The fact that we all thought we’d moved on from the behaviour of the days of Empire (invade, occupy, steal natural resources, install puppet leaders) then found ourselves initiating a war in the Middle East based on a dossier full of lies was staggering. Especially a war waged by a man like Blair, who told us he was going to be tough on crime – and tough on the causes of crime.
Thumbing through the late Tony Benn’s published diaries, it’s interesting to read his early thoughts on Blair after the 1996 election. Benn, a man who never wavered from his pacifist principles in over fifty years of service and who many of us believed to embody the soul of the Labour Party, observed that when Blair spoke at conference it was all “I want to see”, “I think” and “I believe”. Well, the difference between “I” and “we” is a huge one and one that, I suppose, was an early sign of Blair’s unfeasibly monstrous ego.
Looking at the hornet’s nest of the Middle East today, it is no easier to brush aside Tony Blair’s role in the UK’s illegal invasion of Iraq and the domino effect of destabilization it had on that region than it is to brush aside the causes of lung cancer, heart disease and chronic emphysema.
Like so many of us who remember the desert war that began fifteen years ago this week, I still say with conviction: Not in my name.
Matt Roper is a British comedian based in New York City. His relationship with Lush goes back to 2011 when he performed for the muddy festival-goers of Lushfest, returning the following year to curate the line-up of the comedy stage. As he travels around the world, he shares his musings with us here in a series of writings – a sifting of thought from a restless but always seeking imagination.
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