THE TINY BAND which follows my musings on Twitter knows three things: I can’t spell; I regularly Tweet globally matters meant for private consumption; and during the world cup I mounted an isolated and ultimately futile campaign in defence of Emile Ivanhoe Heskey.
To me, Big Emile is socialism personified. The collective before the individual. The selfless work ethic. Dignified persistence in the face of intolerance and prejudice.
There’s also something wonderfully affirming about setting yourself against the majority. Knowing that you, and you alone, are voting online for Emile to start against the USA. That you will be the only person in the bar in a t-shirt sporting the Ivanhoe heraldic crest. Celebrating his sublime flick, whilst the rest see only Gerrard’s finish.
It’s one of the reasons I have always respected and admired David Aaronovitch. Not that he’s a great fan of Emile Heskey; though he might be. No, I admire David for his lonely defence of that other vilified international standard bearer – Tony Blair.
When the polls started to dip, David stood tall. As Iraq descended into bloody chaos, he held the line. When the defences were finally breached, and others (Toynbee, McElvoy, et al) turned and fled, he stood by his post.
So it was with a mixture of sympathy and empathy that I picked up David’s defence of his fallen idol, “Is giving away £5m a reason for such hatred?” in the Times.
What would us Blair boo boys be assailed with this time? Envy: “Why do they hate Blair so much” – the Guardian, 2004? The sheer futility of our opposition: “Dear marcher, please answer a few questions” – the Guardian, 2003?
Nope: madness. Or, to be more specific, “an outbreak of Blair-hatred, of the Tonophobia that seems to dominate public discourse on both right and left”. In for a penny, in for the Times paywall pound, I dug deeper. Tony’s critics are “beyond parody”; yeah, yeah. “Craziness”; but of course. “Pathological”; yawn.
Then, somewhere between “Jon Pilger” and the “madhouse” something stirred. Uneasily, I carried on. There it was again. Unsettling. A feeling. Then a thought. Finally, a realisation.
Aaronovitch may be intransigent and aggressive and infuriating. But he’s right.
We’ve lost it. Blair’s opponents have lost the plot. Our critique is no longer rational; our attacks not political, but personal. Most crucially, we have no serious objective, other than our ill-defined desperation for something akin to revenge.
A case in point: in the last week we’ve seen three separate stories – Blair’s book, Kelly’s death, Milburn’s appointment. Aaronovitch’s analysis off the book farrago is correct. But it is worth re-visiting the letter sent by Jon Pilger and others, attacking Waterstones. Pilger, of all people, arguing that publishers should prioritise public approval of a writer’s policy stance, and their own “reputation”, when choosing to publish and promote an author.
Then there’s Kelly. He was murdered. By the state. To stop him revealing what he knew about the fabrication of the case for war. Subtext – he was murdered, on Tony Blair’s orders, to stop him spilling more beans on the dodgy dossier. For God’s sake, the death of 200,000 Iraqis is enough. Shadowy assassins lurking behind Oxfordshire hedgerows isn’t just crazy, it’s unnecessary.
Then there’s Alan Milburn. Milburn was a middle-ranking cabinet minister. He was aligned with, but never essential to, the process of Labour party modernisation. In government, he secured no lasting legacy, good or bad. His decision to front one of Cameron’s task forces brought down the sort of opprobrium usually reserved for murderers, bankers or James Cordon. Why? Because of the thee Tsars – Milburn, Hutton and Field – Milburn is seen as closest to you know who.
These days it’s common for those who worked or briefed against Blair to feign innocence: “Just Westminster gossip. It wasn’t me. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what you mean”.
Not me. I’ll hold my hand up. I thought Blair was dragging the party off the cliff. I spun, briefed, plotted, connived, caballed. But even I can see how the current round of anti-Blair mania is potentially disastrous.
To re-group and rebuild we must have a proper assessment of our failures in government. And part of that has to be an acknowledgement of the extent to which New Labour’s policies, political positioning and party management contributed to our defeat. How can we have that analysis when we are running that debate through the increasingly distorted prism of one man’s character?
It is infecting everything. Look at the leadership contest. Rather than assess the candidates on their record, policies, or own suitability for office, we are instead asked to grade them on some abstracted sliding scale of how “Blairite” they are.
If you want to know where all this leads, don’t look in the crystal ball, look at the Tories. 35 years after Margaret Thatcher was anointed they’ve still found it impossible to turn the page on her leadership. John Major never successfully defined himself against her legacy. Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard were all selected because of it – blocking the more electorally dangerous Clarke and Portillo in the process. Cameron’s inability to fully cleanse the Thatcherite brand cost him outright victory at the election, while his perceived failure to pursue a robustly Iron agenda is creating problems among his back benchers.
We can’t afford the collateral damage a protracted war on Blarism will inflict on the party. And neither can the people set to experience firsthand the Tory-Liberal government’s brand of one nation Toryism.
The time has come to let go. It’s over. Tony Blair is beyond our reach. We will never see him standing in the dock. His book will be published, and will make him millions, whatever he chooses to do with the royalties. If he gives the proceeds away, they will be recouped with a few discreet phone calls to his business contacts and a round of self-deprecating jokes before the After Eights.
Does that feel as though the hand of history is flipping us the finger? Maybe. But that’s politics. That’s life.
Just ask Emile Heskey.