Thursday, 21 December 2006

What future for Tony Blair

Tony Blair has told DJ and former TFI Friday presenter Chris Evans that after he leaves office he would like to find a job with “a real purpose to it.”

It will certainly be a challenge. Most Prime Ministers effectively retire, though they turn a tidy sum on the lecture circuit. According to The Observer, John Major makes £30,000 a speech. But Mr. Blair’s ego is likely to prevent him fading away into memory.

One thing is sure. Mr. Blair will not sit happily on the backbenches. I doubt he will fight the next general election, and if he does he will not be seen much in the chamber (No change there, then!).

So what will he do with all the time on his hands? His (typically-tortuous) comments to Mr. Evans are instructive: "I think the single thing for me that is most important is that whatever I do afterwards it has a real purpose to it, that it is not just about doing a job," he said. The job of Prime Minister was “a position that once you have occupied it you have done something that has what I call a real life purpose to it… And certainly in anything I wanted to do afterwards, it would be a different purpose but similar in its motivation."

With his penchant for strutting the world stage and his line in highfaluting and emotionally-charged rhetoric, Mr. Blair surely has his eye on some international prize. If so, it is a forlorn hope. In the eyes of much of the world, Mr. Blair is damaged goods, forever tainted by his association with George Bush, the War on Terror and Iraq.

Members are unlikely to agree to Mr. Blair filling any key UN role; the idea of Mr. Blair as a future High Commissioner for Human Rights is absurd, even if any link between him and the outrages on Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib is unfair. Similarly, European governments are unlikely to tolerate a Blair bid to be President of the European Commission; despite his vaunted Europhilia, he has not brought Britain into the Euro, he divided the continent over his Iraq policy, and (ironically, from a British perspective) he is seen as dangerously liberal among our socialist and dirigiste neighbours. Neither is any charity or campaign group going to risk turning off a large swathe of its potential donors by associating itself with such a divisive figure.

Tony Blair’s only hope is to found his own charity and use it as a springboard to launch himself across the world. Perhaps he sees himself as the next Al Gore. But as his pitiful effort this week to bring peace to the Middle East (and goodwill to all men) has highlighted, he is a man whose ambitions far outpace his capabilities.

Whether because he is unable to find a role in a post-Blair world, or because he fails to live up to the challenges he sets for himself, Mr. Blair’s post-premiership is likely to be a failure. History will repeat itself as both tragedy and farce.

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