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John Rentoul

John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.

"The Independent's must-read man" - Daniel Finkelstein

You can contact John in the comments area or email him at j.rentoul@independent.co.uk

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Ban Blair baiting

Posted by John Rentoul
  • Tuesday, 25 August 2009 at 07:52 pm
My previous two posts pose the question: Why is Tony Blair so hated in some quarters?

Stephen Frears thinks that Gordon Brown's shortest route back to popularity would be to stage a public execution of his predecessor.

Meanwhile, Irwin Stelzer reported on his admittedly unrepresentative postbag:

"The first thing one notices is the antipathy to the Labour Party. No surprise there. But here is a surprise: the anger at Tony Blair far exceeds that aimed at his successor."

I am not sure that is generally true. But for Blair at least, help is at hand. A group of concerned citizens have started a petition to ban Blair-baiting. It reads: 
 
We, the undersigned, agree that Blair-baiting should NOT be allowed to prejudice the outcome of the Iraq war inquiry. We therefore call upon the media and other interested parties to refrain from such activity for the duration of the inquiry.

I have of course signed up, and it now boasts 101 signatures. That will give the Daily Mail pause for thought. They will call off the dogs of anti-war, as John Justice, the petition's originator, puts it.

Four Iraqis have signed, along with four Afghans. (View signatories here.) And one soldier (apparently, none of these is easily verifiable), who expresses a view completely unrepresented in either the mainstream media or the supposedly alternative and superior online version:
 
As a Sgt with the Army, The Rifles Regiment (Infantry), i have nothing but praise for the man. After two CON-servative governments giving us servicemen & Women poor funding and poor kit, he changed things. Today thanks to him we have some of the best kit out there. Despite what some high ranking officers have said in the British Gutter press. Ask any soldier ON THE FRONTLINE (i.e not these high ranking Tory supporting officers) if they are happy with the kit and the answer is a resounding "YES".

There is an associated website, Justice for Tony Blair, to add to the small collection of internet Blairites, such as Tony Blair (formerly Keep Blair for PM), Blair Foundation Watch and Against Mainstream Opinion.

Meanwhile, of course, the forces of darkness arrayed against us continue to mobilise. Last month TonyBlairWarCriminal.com was set up to support the miserably unsuccessful Blair War Crimes Foundation. It seems to have been motivated more by the prospect of Blair as EU president than Sir John Chilcot's Iraq war inquiry, but we shall argue (politely) with it anyway.

Comments

White Collar Boxing.
ron_broxted wrote:
Tuesday, 25 August 2009 at 07:46 pm (UTC)
I was asked to sign and refused. (Do you think Lucky Luke is a real name?) As for our squaddie ahem...the SA80 is a piece of junk that jams if you look at it. The SA80 Mark2 is the same but weighs more. Hint...the hatred for B.Liar could eminate from his presiding over the greatest loss of liberty in British history.
Re: White Collar Boxing.
j_rentoul wrote:
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 at 06:22 pm (UTC)
No, that cannot be the explanation.
Re: White Collar Boxing.
blairsupporter wrote:
Thursday, 27 August 2009 at 02:12 pm (UTC)
Looks like not every soldier agrees with you, Ron.

This is comment number 13 at the Ban Blair-Baiting petition:

"As a Sgt with the Army, The Rifles Regiment (Infantry), i have nothing but praise for the man. After two CON-servative governments giving us servicemen & Women poor funding and poor kit, he changed things. Today thanks to him we have some of the best kit out there. Despite what some high ranking officers have said in the British Gutter press. Ask any soldier ON THE FRONTLINE (i.e not these high ranking Tory supporting officers) if they are happy with the kit and the answer is a resounding "YES"."

And this, no. 57 is from an Iraqi:

"I am an Iraqi and I will always be grateful for the help that TB and the British people provided to my country when we needed it the most. Saddam Hussein was an evil man. Many of my friends and family were killed by his regime.Horror, intimidation, murder of our families before our eyes. And he used chemical weapons on us too. That is NOT a lie!"

//////////

I can't imagine why YOUR were asked to sign the Ban Blair-Baiting petition, Ron. Or perhaps you are referring to the other anti petitions?

Anyway, if in the dead of night it dawns on you that it might be a good idea (for British justice) if we let the Iraq Inquiry run its course WITHOUT beheading Blair, you might be tempted (to sign, I mean, of course.)

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/ban-blair-baiting.html

You'd be in good company. No hangers 'n' floggers there. And in this "unfree" land you are still free to make up your own mind.
It's pretty obvious really
richardcarter wrote:
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 at 07:00 am (UTC)
John asks "Why is Tony Blair so hated in some quarters?" The answer is pretty obvious, at least amongst most people who associate themselves with left or social democratic views, and it also explains why people loathe Mandelson so much. Their whole joint "New Labour" project, apart from being a slimy and pathetic piece of marketing speak, was an attempt to destroy the old Labour Party and any ideas associated with it. And I don't mean just ideas such as abandoning our nuclear "deterrent,' nationalisation etc, but anything that didn't agree with Thatcherite views. And I won't even go into the Iraq war and Blair's sanctimonious approach to life ("All I can do is what I believe in").

And the other reason so many people despise him is his political cowardice over any kind of reform: he was elected in 1997 with a vast majority and could have completely reformed parliament and our voting system, changed the UK's attitude to the EU (he could have taken the UK into the euro) and made us less of a lackey to the US (his cosying up to the idiot Bush and his odious and dangerous associates), so many things, but the main aim of his first term was to ensure a second, and the main aim of that was the third: no concept of using power but a craven, gutless fear of the daily mail and what it might say.

It's really the horrible combination of sanctimony and craven gutlessness that so inflames people, I think, and no punishment would be too harsh in my view.
Re: It's pretty obvious really
j_rentoul wrote:
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 at 06:22 pm (UTC)
No, that's not it either. Any other ideas?
Re: It's pretty obvious really
blairsupporter wrote:
Thursday, 27 August 2009 at 02:00 pm (UTC)
Nice put-down John - number 3,959 in the reasons why people dislike Blair?

The trouble is - trouble is ... (pause in my inability to mass-analyse the masses) ... trouble is there are many reasons to dislike ANY leader. Especially a strong one. And, back to psycho-analysis, they blame Blair for too much change, too little change, being bambi, a poodle, a warmonger, a "war criminal". But they never thank him for anything. It's more fun to cast stones, or chop off heads.

Imho, it's (back to psycho-analysis again) part of the collective inability of the typical British online commenter to understand the complexity of politics and that THEY, to be blunt, never make a tougher decision than which colour of socks to wear.

So they infer weakness, warmongering, religiosity, dictatorial tendencies to any leader they dislike.

I suppose it's the only claim to fame for most of them....

"Oh, look at me - I want to be the one to shoot Tony Blair down! Ain't I big?"
Ban Blair Baiting
neoconcritic wrote:
Friday, 28 August 2009 at 04:07 am (UTC)
John will probably simply respond to this by saying "that's not it", but I can only chart the reasons why I ceased to be a supporter and became disillusioned. Simply put, there were a number of policies of the Blair government with which I disagreed deeply. I thought the Iraq war itself a terrible mistake, and Blair's failure to apologize even when it was shown that his justifications for the war were untrue suggested something about him that was disturbing to me. I disagreed with the idea of ID cards, and the authoritarian aspects of the New Labour project. I regretted not seeing a stronger Freedom of Information Act. I disliked the deference towards the super-rich and I didn't like the cronyism of New Labour. I was disappointed at the failure to embrace electoral reform. I came to feel Blair held those who disagreed with him in contempt and that he believed they should have no place in the Labour Party. Yes, I know I am a middle class liberal. Even though John himself presumably does not share my values, I hope he can at least understand why those like myself who do started out as supporters, but fell away.
Re: Ban Blair Baiting
j_rentoul wrote:
Friday, 28 August 2009 at 07:45 am (UTC)
Of course I can understand all those reasons for disagreeing with Tony Blair, even though I disagree with them and some of them are unreasonable - Blair was always opposed to electoral reform, for example. None of them explains why he should be so hated that liberals and social democrats who would be expected to oppose the death penalty would make an exception in his case.
Re: Ban Blair Baiting
neoconcritic wrote:
Friday, 28 August 2009 at 09:50 am (UTC)
I think the interesting issue here is why you get so angry about Blair's critics. Is your anger really directed at those who advocate the death penalty for Blair. Anger about that is certainly justified and I agree with you, but they are surely a tiny minority.

However, your writings to me suggest someone whose real anger is directed at those who disagreed with his policies. I suspect in truth you are angry at the large cohort of people who became disillusioned, but they did so did so as a rational response to the direction of his policies, which diverged sharply from the aspirations of those who supported him in 1997 and again in 2001, despite some disappointments having set in by then.

Your own attitude helps illustrate precisely why New Labour has got into such a dire electoral predicament: it has treated its core supporters with contempt.

As to electoral refrom, here is the link to the time when Blair dropped his Manifesto promise to hold a referendum on the subject (5 Feb 2001). I cannot accept that it was unreasonable to cite that U-turn as one of the reasons for my disappointment (although it was not enough to cause me to switch my vote in the 2001 election). If you consider that unreasonable, that is your problem not mine.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/blair-plans-to-ditch-promise-on-electoral-reform-690255.html

Of course, this all pales into insignificance with the historic misjudgment and failure for which Blair will always be remembered: Iraq. Nothing you write or say will ever alter that reality for millions of people.

Re: Ban Blair Baiting
blairsupporter wrote:
Friday, 28 August 2009 at 03:22 pm (UTC)
To neoconcritic -

Iraq was actually a HUGE success. REPEAT - it is a success story.

Most of the deaths there have NOT been caused by the coalition forces but by insurgency car-bombings. They are still ongoing of course and will be until democracy is more deeply embedded and the security services have learned all they need from the British and Americans. But the idea that we can count another dozen or hundred blown up by a car-bomber as of BLAIR'S doing is crazy.

True the west could have ignored the situation where Saddam was killing his own people. True, we could have let him wage war on Iran again. True, we could have pretended that the disparate fundamentalist terrorists of the Taliban and Al Qaeda had NO common thread or links (if only in ideology ans intent.) True, we could have passed by on the other side.

But that's not leadership.

There are several comments at the Ban Blair-Baiting petition which should be read, many of which I have used at my blog -

http://keeptonyblairforpm.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/ban-blair-baiting-petition-signed-by-an-afghan/

- including this one from an Iraqi:

/////////////////////////////

"I am and my family are deeply grateful for the salvation from Saddam’s terror by Mr.Blair.
I don’t understand why so many people attack him.He only wanted to help.He did not tell lies.Saddam’s regime was as terrific [sic] (”horrific?”) as explained by Mr. Blair.It is easy for people living in the West to criticise.They don’t have to live here and don’t get killed by terrorists. Islam is peace!!!!Down with the fundamentalists!!!"

//////////////////////////////

As for policy issues - reportedly Blair was not all that keen on Scottish devolution either, seeing it as a slippery slope to separatism. But because he understood the "people" wanted it, and he was/is a democrat he went along with it.

As for electoral reform - he tried for four years including well into his first parliament to come to an arrangement with Ashdown over working with the Liberal Democrats in government even though his huge majority meant he didn't need to. Who wouldn't have any of this? Brown, Prescott et al. Read Ashdown's book to get his perspective on Blair's commitment to the cause of the anti-conservative majority in this land.

I referred to this here:

http://keeptonyblairforpm.wordpress.com/ashdown-blair-the-great-coalitionmerger-plan/

and here -

http://keeptonyblairforpm.wordpress.com/2009/06/11/is-browns-pr-all-pr-remember-omf-tfm/

There are plenty of areas where we can all disagree with any politician's policy directions. But NO prime minister is the sole arbiter of policy drift (and it DOES drift for various reasons, always) not even the "great dictator" and his "sofa government".

For some reason, best known to their own evil minds, some of the Left do wish to suspend capital punishment until they have suspended Blair.

Frears is irresponsible and perhaps crazy for putting such thoughts in the public domain.

You don't hear this from the Right. Only the disillusioned Left and anarchists.

Personally I am likely to vote for no-one next time round, since I am no longer inspired by our present mealy-mouthed politicians who wouldn't recognise a principle if it stood up in parliament and addressed them weekly for ten years.
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