One of Tony Blair’s lesser claims to fame is his apparent photographic memory. I can attest to this personally. Shortly after he became prime minister of the UK in 1997, I interviewed him for a newspaper. At the end of the meeting, he said to me: “You keep asking me about my dreams. What about yours? You must have some?”
I rather awkwardly replied that I had just seen the latest James Bond movie. “And my dream is to drive a BMW Z3 one day, just like Bond.”
Four years later, I saw Blair again at an event in London. Before I could introduce myself, he said: “Ah, Bond! Did you get that Z3?”
Blair of course had many dreams of his own – the biggest one being to become one of the greatest political leaders in history. Thanks to his disastrous decision to join George Bush in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, that dream has turned sour ever since. He is often dubbed “Britain’s most hated man” in the media.
With the rise of terror groups and populist far right leaders across the globe, blair’s organisation could yet have a huge role to play in our futures
History can’t change the fact that the Iraq war, which cost nearly 500,000 lives, was a monumental error by the west. But that said, there is a counter argument to be made here: Whether Blair had backed Bush and joined the war or not would have actually made little difference to the outcome. US troops were poised to invade Iraq on March 20, 2003, with or without the help of Blair and Britain. Blair’s rush to join in cost 179 British lives. But, sadly, I doubt the Iraqi death toll would have been any less without the British involved.
All of which means that Blair’s other big dream – to totally rebuild and revitalise a nation’s economy – will be totally forgotten. Within five days of coming to power in 1997, he took the bold decision to make the Bank of England independent of politicians, allowing it to set interest rates without government interference. He embraced competitive markets and flexibility in the labour market. He championed the IT boom in the late nineties. Stock markets rose and the economy boomed. Millions of people could finally step onto the property ladder.
He introduced the National Minimum Wage, a model copied by many countries since. And best of all, he didn’t sign up to the European single currency project – not having the euro has largely saved the UK from the worst of global recessions, as it’s interest rates are not set by a continental Central Bank.
Of course, I know full well that if you mention “Blair” to absolutely anyone, they will say “Iraq war.” The intricacies of the national minimum wage, and its huge benefits to the economy, are lost in translation.
But, as our interview this week with Blair shows, it isn’t over till it’s over. His new “Tony Blair Institute for Global Change” is a not-for-profit body that has several of his causes all coming under one umbrella.
Whether blair had backed bush and joined the war or not would not have actually made little difference to the outcome
As he explains, “I had also become fascinated by the problem of extremism versus co-existence and the need to establish ways of working across boundaries of faith and culture, so I set up different foundations which I then bought into this one institute. I also added another aspect to it – which concerned how we could return strength to separated politics. All of this has in common the idea that globalisation is essentially a good thing. The question is how do we make globalisation work?”
This might all like wishful thinking, but with the rise of terror groups and populist far right leaders across the globe, Blair’s new organisation could yet have a huge role to play in our futures. Let’s be blunt: politics has become ugly and nationalists are taking the centre ground from globalists. Whatever you think of Blair’s decision to invade Iraq, no one should doubt his sincerity to bring about positive change. (And yes, I know there is yet another counter argument to be made here that the Iraq war sparked much of the extremism and nationalism that we see today, so this all really is his fault.)
It is just over 16 years since the start of the second Iraq war. A long time, but for Blair – now 65 years old – is there still time for redemption?
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