Rod Liddle says that the former Prime Minister has pulled off an astonishing feat: uniting Left and Right, Europhiles and Eurosceptics, people of all nations and creeds, online and
in print, in their glorious campaign to prevent him becoming President of Europe
This is shaping up to be the greatest expression of European unanimity and togetherness since Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. From Gdansk in the Baltic to the Straits of Cadiz, the citizens of this fractious and culturally disparate continent are at last united. It is a remarkable achievement, when you think about it. What other politician in living memory would be able to bring together, in fervent opposition, a German Green, a Flemish supporter of Vlaams Beland, an Italian Christian Democrat and a French Socialist?
Tony Blair has not yet so much as announced his candidacy for the post of President of Europe, but already the barricades have been manned, Poles linking hands with Spaniards, Sudeten Germans with the Alsace French. Nobody seems to want him and yet his victory is already being seen as inevitable, a given. He is, you see, a great communicator; he has stature. It is said that he straddles the divide of old and new Europe, or at least hops between these two camps like a flea on a hotplate, one week offering succour to the Poles, the next kicking them in the teeth. His presidency would either offer a challenge to the Franco-German dominance of the European Union or ensure its survival: take your pick. Both possibilities have been suggested and that, in a way, is Mr Blair’s triumph as a politician, to be all things to all people while actually being no thing at all.
On the streets of Europe, as I say, he is trusted no further than you or I could spit. Both Left and Right are agreed that they would prefer almost anyone else in the world for the job. He has the support, we are told, of the already hopelessly beleaguered Nicolas Sarkozy, and at home of that political titan, that colossus, Denis MacShane. And yet from this narrowish base it has been blithely assumed that he will get the post. By him, at least. His old ally Angela Merkel seems to be fervently opposed, though, according to the Guardian, she expresses ‘great personal sympathy for Tony’. A German government source has said: ‘There is unease… Merkel is against. He made a lot of fine speeches about Europe but essentially stood on the sidelines when it came to concrete steps forward.’ Ah, you noticed that, huh?
When Tony Blair at last left Downing Street in the summer of 2007 he was immediately appointed peace envoy to the Middle East. Most people in the world, and especially those in the Arab world, suspected some kind of satirical joke had been played; with the possible exceptions of Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, was there anyone in the world less likely to secure the trust of Arab people than Tony Blair? But in fact it was an appointment which had been made in all seriousness, and so our former Prime Minister set about being the first thing the Jews and Palestinians have been able to agree about in 3,000 years.
However, the post has turned out not to his liking. He seems a little bored by it, frankly. Certainly he considered it of insufficient importance to secure his undivided attention, which is presumably why he took up extremely lucrative consultancy posts with the bankers JP Morgan and Zurich Financial. And of course proceeded to rake in the dosh with his lecture tours. The plight of the Palestinians proved to be less than compelling for a statesman of Tony Blair’s magnitude, especially when it became apparent that his role was not quite as magisterial, as self-gratifying, as he had imagined when he took up the post. And so naturally, given his stature, he began scouting around for a post which would be commensurate with his talents.
Now, at the time it was announced that he would become a Middle East peace envoy, most of us laughed like drains and wondered if it was possible for Tony Blair to have been given a less suitable post. Could there be any job in the world for which, by his previous actions, he had shown himself to be less able, we chuckled. Oh yes, indeedy — there could. Because while waging an illegal war against uppity Arabs sets the bar pretty high, you have to say his performance on all matters European over the last decade has been a model of serial deviousness, disingenuity and political failure, and has shown an extraordinary contempt for the voters of Britain. Both those voters who wish for a federal European superstate with its own constitution and — even more so — those who were implacably opposed to such a notion. It is not just the Eurosceptics who oppose Blair’s candidacy for the job of President, but the Europhiles too, who feel badly let down. Which is why the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg described Blair’s possible candidacy as a ‘display of vanity’. Nobody wants him.
His political failure over Europe has been perhaps the most striking of any politician in recent years. He wished for Britain to be a part of a single European currency and for a succession of powers to be devolved to Brussels. He has been absolutely clear that the nation state would inevitably — and mercifully — dissolve, that its time had gone. He described those who committed themselves to the notion of a strong nation state with an integral identity as being ‘practically outdated.’ He despaired of Britain’s apparent Euroscepticism among the great unwashed, but assumed that this opposition to the EU — which he blamed upon rank xenophobia, a regrettable island mentality — would in time winnow away. Much as he assumed that the economic benefits of a single European currency would soon enough make it impossible for Britain to resist joining in with the rest.
These two assumptions were quite magnificently mistaken; instead, British disaffection with the autocratic and bureaucratic institutions of Brussels spread like a virus among other member states, first to Denmark and then pretty much everywhere else. By the time Blair had been elected for a second time in Britain, Eurosceptism had become the default position of the populace of pretty much every member state, with the possible exception of Italy. At the same time, the idea of Britain joining the euro zone slipped further and further down the agenda. You will remember Gordon Brown’s hilarious five ‘convergence criteria’, economic conditions which had to be met in order for Britain to sign up to the euro. Britons travelling to continental Europe are these days welcomed by the locals, because we have more money to spend, more bang for our buck.
Now, given this defeat of all the PM held dear, you might have expected — from a principled politician — one of two reactions. Either he admits he got it wrong, cedes to the will of the people and shelves all attempts to divest Britain of more sovereign powers, or he argues that the British people were wrong, insists that Britain should become part of a European super-state and takes the electoral consequences. Blair, of course, did neither; he instead continued to pursue his own agenda by means of subterfuge, obfuscation and downright lying. And never more so than in his attempts to ram a European constitution down the throats of the British people, against their clear wishes.
Take the following as an example. At the very time that the Blair government was attempting, through chicanery and doctored security service dossiers, to take Britain into an illegal war which it did not want, government ministers were talking precisely the same sort of disingenuous and dishonest claptrap about the proposed EU constitution. In the spring and early summer of 2003, as those tanks rolled into Baghdad, Peter Hain, then the Europe minister, made the following three statements about the ‘constitution’ to three different audiences. This is what he said:
‘This is not a major change. There is no need for a referendum.’ (To the BBC Radio 4 PM programme.)
‘I am not saying it [the constitution] has got no substantial constitutional significance,
of course it will have….’ (To the House of Commons.)
‘Our task is nothing less than the creation of a new constitutional order for Europe.’ (To the Financial Times.)
The rest of the time, Pete and other government ministers reverted to the approved government phrase ‘tidying-up exercise’ when quizzed about the parameters of the constitution in public. But we are aware now, had we ever been in any doubt, that the Lisbon Treaty was precisely a constitution in everything except name; we know this not least because the House of Commons European scrutiny committee has described it precisely thus — as being ‘substantially equivalent’ to a constitution for Europe. Furthermore, it is unlikely that those opt-outs which Tony Blair fought for — undoubtedly against his better private judgment — on tax, benefits, fundamental rights and, crucially, foreign policy, will have little legal status. They will amount, in effect, to hot air. But then I don’t suppose that Mr Blair will worry too much about that — indeed, quite the reverse.
Because here’s the supreme irony of it. If the post of President of Europe (or whatever ‘substantially equivalent’ phrase eventually comes to be used) does not have serious diplomatic clout and thus real power, then Tony Blair would not want it. In other words, he would only want the job if it is everything that New Labour has been telling us it won’t be over the course of the last half-dozen or so years.
The principal reason that continental Europe does not want Blair is, of course, the invasion of Iraq. And they don’t know the half of it. They know that a sovereign country was invaded illegally, against the wishes of the United Nations, at the behest of the US and its little manqué superpower Great Britain. They have seen the devastation and civil war which resulted as a consequence, of course. But they are not, by and large, aware of the chicanery and manipulation which was involved over here in order to swing a reluctant public and House of Commons behind what was Britain’s most disastrous foreign adventure since Suez. Perhaps somebody ought to tell them.
Still, there is at least one bright spot resulting from Mr Blair’s candidacy. The modest and agreeable Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg will not be able to believe the groundswell of support he receives from all corners of the continent. M. Juncker — a name which has the right sort of ring about it for an EU presidency — is considered to be the front-runner among alternative candidates. The name of Bertie Ahern has also been mentioned. Frankly, Blair aside, I couldn’t care less, so long as the job has not the remotest vestige of power over my country.
Meanwhile, there’s already a website devoted to making sure Blair does not get the job. It’s called www.stopblair.eu and I think it’s being run by a bunch of pro-federalist monkeys. Never mind that — we’re all together on this one, it’s a big tent.