I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.
Just when you thought it was safe to come in from the cold, he’s back stalking the corridors of power looking for his next prey. Whilst the political timebomb of the Coalition government ticks close and closer to electoral meltdown, he circles like vulture over One Brewer’s Green in Westminster hoping to pick at the Labour party’s weak points.
The question of the alleged return of Tony Blair to British politics has been percolating over the past few weeks even since his interview with the Evening Standard where he said he ‘wouldn’t mind’ being Prime Minister again. Now he has begun his tenure as an official advisor to the Labour party for a reported six figure salary the question is everyone is asking is: can he do it?
I’d say it’s unlikely but not out of the realms of possibility.
Of course, he was forced to postpone his ‘comeback speech’ because of anti war protesters threatening to stage a mass protest against his presence at a rally for Labour activists in Lambeth, south London last Monday. However, Blair’s official role is as an adviser on the PR legacy of the 2012 Olympics; a legacy he is hoping will become his own rather than the blood stains of the Iraq war.
It is rather telling that he choose this moment to resurface. Of course it all started with his evidence to the Leveson inquiry at the end of May but having travelled the world lining his pockets with the treasures of Middle Eastern business interests without a care as his former nemesis, Gordon Brown, ran his historic three term Labour government into the ground, very few people thought he would want to climb back into the fray when he left under such a dark cloud.
However, now that troops are starting to leave Iraq and the daily news cycle of death and destruction in the region is abetting, it will start to fade from the forefront of people’s minds. The anger and resentment towards the current government is starting to ease their mistrust in Labour as they feel things couldn’t get any worse. Now here come the brand new shiny Olympics that were once a beckon of hope for restoring Britain’s ‘great’ status under Labour and have become a symbol of expense, incompetence and corruption under the Coalition and G4S. Soon the lone and rather pathetic visage of the Stop the War protesters who until recently lingered outside the Houses of Parliament (until the High Court ruled that their tents had to be removed in May) will be all that is left of the anger and vitriol that was directed at Blair before he left power.
Whilst its true he invented weapons of mass destruction so that he could rampage through the oil reserves of the Middle East and ended up slaughtering thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of innocent people but I have always found the accusation of ‘War Criminal’ to be empty rhetoric. Sure, he may be (I would leave that up to the Hague to decide however) but then again one man’s war criminal is another man’s war hero. This is not a defence of what Blair did in power, more a recognition that his subsequent reputation is hampered by biased perception. For instance, our current Prime Minister, David Cameron was once ‘strongly in favour’ of the Iraq war according to his voting records. Of course, he’s never sexed up a dossier (that we know of) but how can you say that the Conservatives or even the Liberal Democrats wouldn’t have done the same in power? We can turn our noses up at the brutalities of rule when we are beyond the palace gates, but inside, power corrupts. Never underestimate the way in which ideology can warp your sense of morality. In politics perhaps, there is no such thing as right and wrong. It may not excuse Blair’s actions but it demonstrates that he isn’t alone.
So if he can absolve his legacy through good works and fantastic PR, does he stand a shot in hell of getting back into parliament? Probably. We shake our heads and protest loudly at the suggestion but remember that if a week is a very long time in politics, how long is half a decade? Blair is a one man PR machine, remember he was the central mastermind behind the concept of ‘New Labour’ that made them electable again, who is to say that the general public won’t fall for it again, especially after five years of coalition frustration? He is also the man who introduced the minimum wage and whilst this didn’t close the unpaid intern loop, imagine how low graduate starting salaries would be today without it? He has beget a generation of grateful low paid workers who are already resentful of the Conservatives cuts to their benefits.
So what if he does win over the public? Will he get back into parliament? Definitely. Of course he has his enemies but what successful politician doesn’t? Gordon Brown was equally unpopular with the Blarite set when he was elevated to Prime Minister unopposed in 2007. Similarly, members of the party may hate him but they hate losing more; his position as the longest serving Labour prime minister in history will certainly win over a few waverers, especially those who doubt Ed Miliband’s ability to prove that he is a credible candidate against Cameron and his cuts.
There are already signs that he is being welcomed back into the fold by the top players in the party as Jon Cruddas, Blair’s former aide, who spoke of ‘reforming the band’ and bringing the heavyweights of Labour party together in support of Ed Miliband as he tries to build on his increasing popularity and get away from his geeky image during the early days of his leadership.
Whether or not Miliband, who was traditionally close to Gordon Brown under the last government, is glad to have his predecessor back is irrelevant, their position side by side to give speeches announcing his return was symbolic enough of his at least conditional support for Blair’s renewed interest in domestic politics. Would he be perhaps willing to give Blair a safe seat at the next election to say thank you?
He may think he’s strong enough to keep a lid on the Blair juggernaut for now but these decisions have a historic habit of coming back to haunt politicians.
As Blair put it, ‘the job is never finished’.