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The case for

Tony Blair

Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Does he deserve a knighthood?

Why are people so angry about his knighthood?
There are plenty of sound arguments against Sir Tony, says Stephen Daisley in The Spectator, but across a whole segment of the British public, “Blair Derangement Syndrome” has taken hold. For them, including more than a million signatories of a petition to revoke his spanking new knighthood, Blair is a “war criminal, a mass murderer, Bliar, Bush’s poodle, a bloodthirsty neocon, a Europhile traitor and the monster who introduced lying to the noble vocation of politics”.

Are they right?
The US invasion of Iraq was going to happen whether Blair had signed up or not. He may have provided an “ethical fig leaf” for the invasion, as James Bloodworth puts it in The New Statesman, but he couldn’t have stopped the tanks rolling into Baghdad. Bloodworth argues that the anti-knighthood petition claiming Blair is “personally responsible” for the Iraq war dead is “nothing short of hysterical”.

So was Blair a warmonger?
He took Britain to war on five occasions: in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Iraq in 1998, Afghanistan, and then Iraq again in 2003. The 1998 Iraq adventure was really a four-day bombing campaign to castrate Saddam Hussein’s weapons-building apparatus. In Afghanistan, Britain was just one in a coalition of more than 40 countries that took part in efforts to overthrow the Taliban, backed by a United Nations resolution. And the military interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo were considered a success in restoring peace and preventing ethnic cleansing.

But the second go at Iraq wasn’t such a success?
It wasn’t just that Blair lied about the reasons for going to war and lost public trust over the notorious “sexed up” dossier on weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. What united Blair’s critics on the right and the left was the belief that invading Iraq was a bad idea for strategic reasons. Saddam’s regime, though deeply unpleasant, was actively hostile to Islamic extremists like al-Qaeda, the terror group responsible for the Twin Towers attack. An Iraq invasion was always going to cause chaos in the Middle East and hugely strengthen Iran, as indeed it did.

What should Blair have done about Iraq?
When the US failed to secure UN backing for the war, Blair could have taken a leaf out of his wily predecessor Harold Wilson’s book. In the 1960s President Lyndon Johnson asked Wilson to help escalate the Vietnam War. Though Wilson wouldn’t publicly criticise the Americans – saying “we can’t kick our creditors in the balls”, he did refuse to commit British troops to Indochina.

What has Blair done since leaving No 10?
After standing down in 2007, Blair founded an elite political consultancy, Tony Blair Associates (TBA), in a handsome 18th-century townhouse at the north-east corner of Mayfair’s Grosvenor Square. Per square foot it ranks as one of the most expensive pieces of office space in the world. No one could argue a stint in politics should disqualify somebody from making a few quid. But Blair’s decision to go into highly paid consultancy with “dubious clients” like Saudi Arabia “tarnished his standing”, says Sebastian Payne in the FT. TBA signed a multimillion-pound deal to advise Kazakhstan’s leadership in October 2011, just months after then-president Nursultan Nazarbayev was controversially re-elected with 96% of the vote. One of his first jobs was advising the authoritarian leader how to respond to the killing of 14 civilian protesters by police.

What’s his legacy?
Among the electorate, “sympathy for Blair belongs to the fringe”, says Owen Jones in The Guardian. Just 14% approve of his knighthood, according to a YouGov survey, “fewer than believe the moon landings were faked”. Blair went from a prime minister with a 93% approval rating in 1997 to one of Britain’s “most loathed public figures”. Still, at least he knew how to win elections, says Payne. He knew that to gain any sort of hearing from British voters, Labour had to be trusted on security, and had to “appear to like the country” it sought to govern. Over its past decade “marinating in opposition”, his party has failed on both. As Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell put it: “If you look at the last 11 elections, it goes: lost, lost, lost, lost, Blair, Blair, Blair, lost, lost, lost, lost.”