By Paul Goodman
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There will still be a support base for Tony Blair among voters – displeasing though this is to most Conservatives (excluding the very senior Tory Cabinet Ministers to whom he is simply "The Master"). Whether we like it or not, Mr Blair will still be seen, by a stubborn section of the British people, to be a) moderate and b) strong. This combination is the philosopher's stone which some other politicians, David Cameron among them, search for more often than they find it. Perhaps this residual strength explains why Mr Blair began campaigning for a comeback in the spring and his critics are opposing it this summer.
But whether so or not, I am surprised that neither Mr Blair's friends nor enemies seem to see the obvious, namely that there will be no Blair comeback. Or to put it even more starkly: Blair is finished in Britain. (Speaking at the odd big Labour dinner and acting as a sporadic adviser to the party does not consitute a comeback, at least to my mind.) Although I am not exactly a fan of the former Prime Minister, I write this less as a cry of Tory triumph than as a statement of the bleeding obvious. For although Mr Blair has the perhaps wide, though not deep, respect of one group of voters he also has the very deep and fairly wide emnity of two more.
The first is what its supporters like to call the "progressive majority", and I think of as the people who voted Yes in the AV referendum. That's to say, the smash-capitalism, save-the-BBC, Castro-is-right, the-rioters-had-a-point, Tories-cause-global-warming, stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off Guardian-reading classes. The second is a largeish section of the Conservative-voting minority. That's to say, the leave-me-alone, not-in-my-back-yard, pull-up-the-drawbridge voters who occasionally dip into the pages of the Daily Mail. I prefer the latter to the former, but this is beside the point, which is: neither can stand Mr (and, in the latter case, Mrs) Blair.
And the emnity of both is more than enough to block a revival. It combines to proclaim a single word: Iraq. And it goes on to speak another: money. Put aside for a moment the rights and wrongs of the claims about Mr Blair and Iraq. My point is that regardless of their merits, he will never, ever shake off the cry of J'Accuse. Wherever he goes, he will be pursued by victims, desperadoes, mourners, hecklers, obsessives and – yes – maniacs. To all these, he murdered all those who died in the Iraq War, as surely as Orestes murdered his mother. And they will pursue him ceaselessly, as Orestes was pursued by the Furies.
No wonder the former Labour leader – three times returned as Prime Minister in succession, a record that no other one has matched, twice with stupendous majorities – had to endure the ignonomy of being smuggled in past protestors at the recent fund-raising dinner that was part of his comeback plan. It was par for the course. No matter how many editions of the Evening Standard he guest-edits, no matter how many editors of the Financial Times he is interviewed by, this is the fate of the man who once swept the polls before him – personifying the sense of youth, promise and optimism that disturbs politics now and again to nobody's real benefit.
Mr Blair's response to all this has been a form of displacement activity: to try to do good and make money at the same time. This is not always a problem-free combination, and so it has proved in his case: the potential for conflicts of interest scarcely need spelling out. The former Prime Minister is not comic on television or, I suspect, in the flesh. Indeed, he is impressive in the way he has always been impressive, and undoubtedly has powerful, centrist, social-democratic-to-Christian Democrat- beliefs. (The mistake of the Tory uber-modernisers in their imitation of him was to mistake form for content.)
But his pursuit of making money since leaving Downing Street is undoubtedly comic, while John Major's pursuit of the same goal hasn't stirred even a smile, let alone raise an eyebrow. Why? Perhaps the answer lies in that edgy combination of genuinely-felt religiosity and relentess self-betterment – or, if you prefer, the eye for the main chance. The details of his quest can be funny: an "old friend" recently told Mr Blair's even older friend, the Daily Mail, that the former Prime Minister has taken up deep-sea fishing: "he gets strapped into one of those high-tech seats with a harness, like in the film Jaws".
At the end of the Eumenides, Orestes is put on trial and is acquitted on the casting vote of the Goddess Athena: the Furies accept the verdict and end their pursuit. Justice triumphs over vengeance. Though there have already been at least two trials of Tony Blair, the same cannot truthfully be claimed of either, since one was a satirical play and the other a Malaysian circus (figuratively though not literally): neither freed him, in declaration or in fact. Indeed, there is only one sure refuge left beyond the reach of enterprising human rights lawyers and enthusiasts for citizens' arrests – and, no, I don't mean Kazakhstan.
Yes, there is always America. No, not the Republican-voting South of his former colleague George W.Bush – because Mr Blair isn't a Republican: imagine how his support for gay marriage, buttressed by his belief that "Jesus was a moderniser", would go down in parts of Texas – but the Democrat-voting America of the Eastern Seaboard, where he would feel at ease, if not at home. Though he would have to run the risk – small but not statistically insignificant, given the connections both men have – of running into that frequent vistor to Democrat America, Gordon Brown.