It’s official at last. Like setting a wedding date. Or a series of concerts by your favourite band. Mr. Blair is to step down on June 27. Mark it on your calendar.
The press in the UK has not only been speculating promiscuously on when he would go but have been daily detailing his ‘farewell tour’. Tony, it seems has been taking every chance in the last weeks to plant in the mind of the public the terms of ‘his legacy’.
Although there other factors have to be considered, I think it is noteworthy that he chose to announce his departure shortly after Tuesday’s historic swearing in of a new First and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland. He will be seen to bow out basking in the light of at least one major peace deal.
Mr. Blair will claim Northern Ireland to be part of his legacy, and I do think he is entitled to do so. He was the first UK PM for many years to take a ‘hands on’ approach to the situation. Previous PMs, (with the exception of a beleaguered John Major who leading the viciously divided Conservatives on economic and social issues, and with a cut-throat atmosphere on his back benches, possibly found Belfast relaxing), had tended to sidestep the issue, thinking (and who can blame him) it was complex beyond reason, impossible, even intractable. But Tony got on the airplane each time, and with his chesire-cat smile and his boundless enthusiasm knocked heads together – so to speak. He is not the only person who deserves credit for Tuesday’s relevance of course but he is the only player to have just announced he is to step down.
His legacy, I suspect, will be the legacy of any politician. In some places he will be seen as a great man, a man who brought change and prosperity while in others he will be derided, barely missed. His achievements as party leader cannot be denied. And God knows the UK needed something different after 18 years of devastating and then inept Tory rule. But I suspect history will be divided on what his true worth is.
As someone who spent some of their childhood in Belfast, who witnessed the violence, the fear, the disintegration of normal life, I respect and admire what he has done for the province. And the Labour party under his leadership has made important inroads into tackling discrimination in the workplace, in attempting to restore some validity to public services, in bringing marginalised sectors of UK society into the mainstream, into promoting a dynamic and more contemporary view of being British.
But for all that, as Mr. Blair bows out, I cannot help but think of the daily reports of violence and conflict from Iraq and how his unconditional support for the Bush administration has compromised the UK’s standing on the international stage. And ‘farewell tour’ or not, Northern Ireland or not, spin doctors or not, the true legacy of those decisions has yet to be understood.