OPINION - Of course Tony Blair deserves a knighthood

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  • Tony Blair
    Tony Blair
    Former prime minister of the United Kingdom (born 1953)
 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

I once ended an evening early because my date informed me that Tony Blair was a ‘war criminal’. I don’t know how we came on to the subject – somewhere between drinks two and three – but in retrospect, it was good to broach it early, and not after we’d adopted a beagle and moved to Zone 4.

So I can guess what he would have made of the news that Tony Blair is now a ‘sir’ and a member of the Order of the Garter, a personal appointment by the Sovereign. He’s probably one of more than half a million people to sign a petition calling for the knighthood to be rescinded.

(Side-note: shall you ask the Queen, or I? Last time I checked, her majesty didn’t veto the prorogation of Parliament like you asked either.)

Blair Derangement Syndrome is a curious malady. Sure, Britain’s decision to join the disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was one that will define his legacy and accelerated his departure from office – though Blair did of course win a majority at the 2005 general election.

Yet he also enjoyed a wide-ranging domestic record of achievement that retains cross-party support to this day, from peace in Northern Ireland to the national minimum wage, civil partnerships and a nation that, at least for a while, seemed more at ease with itself.

I have long found a person’s view on Blair to be, as Robert Caro says of power, revealing. I’m not bothered if you think he was too authoritarian on crime, overly relaxed about the private provision of public services or dismissive of cabinet government. More with anyone who casually drops the term ‘criminal’, apparently ignorant of the faint echo of that Trumpian chant ‘lock her up.’

That Keir Starmer today felt the need to defend the decision to award his party’s most successful leader a knighthood, calling him a “very successful prime minister” is symptomatic of the problem.

Angus Scott, who created the petition on change.org, suggested that Blair is “the least deserving person of any public honour.”

Therein lies the vacuum at the heart of Blair derangement Syndrome, its missing WMD if you will. The ‘least deserving’? From major donors to political parties to chief executives of soon-to-be insolvent banks, even a cursory glance at the history of our honours system would suggest this is somewhat of a reach.

It is neither Labour nor Conservative, soft left nor old right, to believe that a man who led the country for a decade might deserve a knighthood, much as those who came before him did. Sometimes people we disagree with get elected, and some of those will get knighted.

Blair himself said that he knew the New Labour project would only be complete when the party “learned to love Peter Mandelson”. Large swathes of the British left will never love Blair, and in fairness adoration of any politician is a bit weird.

But it will only get back to power when it appreciates, as Starmer does, that a lot of people either quite liked him, or have simply moved on.

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