Watching the final hours of the Blair years yesterday, one could not help but be struck by the two sides of Tony Blair. It was, perhaps, fitting that the last word in the house went to Ian Paisley. For, it would have seemed incredible for much of my life that anyone could persuade Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness to work together for the future peace and prosperity of Northern Ireland. But that is what the ‘patient, thorough, thoughtful, diplomatic’ Blair pulled off – and despite my opinions of Blair in so many areas, we should never lose sight of what an incredible achievement that was. It will be, and deserves to be remembered as part of Blair’s legacy.
It makes a bitter, ironic contrast with his handling of the ‘special relationship’ with the US Presidency. Blair was clearly enthralled by George W Bush, a hawkish neo-conservative who should have been politically as far from New Labour as it was possible to be. Thus followed the spectacle of a moderate left of centre British government marching to war on the coat-tails of Bush’s right-wing crusade to change the face of the Middle East. Unable to secure UN mandate, or the backing of our other allies in the EU, he resorted to a tissue of half-truths and deceptions to gain the backing of his parliament. Make no mistake, the history books of the future will have this monumental misjudgment right up there with Suez.
Now Blair is to be an envoy to the Middle East. On the basis of the first example above, one would think – if anyone can get these people talking – he can. But on the basis of the second, one doubts if the Arab world will ever be able to do business with him. I hope I’m wrong.