I know that the comments beneath online newspaper pieces aren’t exactly where you go if you want sane, balanced opinion, but the forum which followed the Guardian’s news story about Tony Blair’s speech yesterday nevertheless took me aback. Appropriately enough, there were 666 comments when I read them. And how many had anything positive to say about the former Prime Minister? I counted one, possibly two, if you count calling him a ‘charismatic commentator’ before saying you think he is out of touch.
It has been clear since around 2002 that Blair has been seen on the left as a generally negatively influence, but is there really no-one among Labour’s grassroots supporters left, even grudgingly, to admit that winning three elections, taking the Labour party from irrelevance into what briefly looked like Britain’s natural governing party, introducing the minimum wage, passing all the equality legislation which I thought the Left wanted were not worthwhile things to do?
True, Blair seems blind to his biggest failure in office – the Iraq War. It is bizarre to hear him claiming that the hasty removal of Saddam Hussein on a false pretext had absolutely nothing to do with the rise of Isis in Iraq. But does that really justify calling him ‘this louse’, ‘a war criminal’, ‘a neo-liberal conman’, an ‘odious little lying lickspittle turd’ and many more besides. I would love to know what was contained in the contributions which say ‘removed by a moderator’.
Tony Blair has often been seen as a mirror image of Margaret Thatcher: someone who won three elections but who rubbed up a large part of his party the wrong way. But even at the nadir of Tory fortunes in the late 1990s, when many blamed Thatcher for giving it the ‘nasty party’ image which had led to catastrophic defeat in 1997, she still commanded huge respect in the party. And that is in spite of the lack of loyalty which she often showed towards the party and its leaders after leaving Number 10. Blair has never been anything but loyal to the Labour party since 2007.
That he inspires such hatred among a body of people whom I presume are predominantly Labour supporters shows just how vast a problem the party has. It isn’t that it is drifting off to the left, retreating to its comfort zone or whatever. A good number of its grassroots supporters are out and out Trotskyites, for whom capitalism is the devil and any member who says otherwise is a traitor. In Jeremy Corbyn they have found their leader. Blair’s ability to tackle the Trotskyite element in the Labour party deserved the admiration it drew at the time. Trouble is there is no-one else to the fore of the party who seems even remotely capable of repeating the feat.