Just weeks away from the publication of the Chilcot report on Iraq, Tony Blair still offers a vigorous defence of military action. Yet the legacy of Iraq is that although he also changed Britain in many ways, those reforms are now largely taken for granted or forgottenby Bronwen Maddox / June 16, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
It’s been a difficult decade and a half in which to run a democracy. Two wars that did not go to plan—if I can put it like that—and a financial crisis that touched almost all the world have hardly helped build confidence in liberal democracies and free markets. My shelves are dominated by books of the “What went wrong?” genre: first a wave on Iraq and Afghanistan, giving way to a longer, higher swell of those on the crash and recession.
Debt, deficits, ageing populations, the impact of globalisation and technology on jobs and the stalling of productivity and wages all play a part. Threats and environmental problems proliferate and international alliances to combat them are wobbling. Above all, there is the new, angry scepticism of voters about their leaders, raising the spectre that democracy may be unable solve its own problems. For Prospect, these questions are its central preoccupation; the magazine was founded 21 years ago this year, and while it has never been attached to any political party, it early on borrowed the roll-your-sleeves-up spirit of the years that followed Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide.
The question of how Britain should combat such problems, abroad and at home, was the focus of an hour-long interview with Blair in Westminster on 24th May, just a month ahead of the European Union referendum and only a few weeks more from the publication of the Chilcot inquiry into Iraq.
The security that surrounds Blair even nine years after leaving office is not casual; guests are vetted, bags screened, access doors sealed off, his driver waiting throughout by a back door. Compared to Jeremy Corbyn, even to David Cameron, Blair has the air of a world-class politician used to addressing global audiences, albeit one who seems disconcerted by his disconnection now with the public life of his own country. Sitting on a stage under the baroque Edwardian ceiling of Methodist Central Hall in Westminster (“I’ve given so many talks here over the years,” Blair mused nostalgically in the corridors, looking around), the famous smile with the irregular teeth is still frequent; answers still begin with “Look…”, both casual and personal, which in more forgiving times would charm viewers from the television to the ballot box.