From the best PM we never had to deadly vanity of the Blair years
24 May, 2019
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair
• “THE best Prime Minister we never had” proclaimed The Guardian the day after Labour Party leader John Smith died, though two weeks earlier the same newspaper derided him as “lacking in charisma”.
Death obviously improved him in its eyes? At 8.05am on May 13, 1994, Smith suffered a major heart attack and at 9.15am he was declared dead on arrival at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, a stone’s throw from his Barbican residence.
But the story does not end there; that’s where the intrigue begins. As confirmed by future Prime Minister Tony Blair in a 1996 documentary for BBC Panorama: “Within 30 minutes of his death I was repeatedly called and asked if I would be leader”, delivered while deploying his famous shiny grin.
On the same programme media guru, Machiavellian Peter, now Lord, Mandelson refused to comment on the election of the Labour leader. Today, Lord Mandelson says that every day he does a little something to undermine Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
A 2,000-word ‘op-ed’ piece, “Why Blair should be leader”, appeared in the Standard on the morning of the Labour leader’s demise. Who sanctioned the rushed placing of this ill-timed assertion that “Blair should be leader”?
Some knew then, many know since, that media guru Peter Mandelson brokered a deal, saying to social democrat Gordon Brown that he would not be the best option as leader to his preferred candidate, Christian democrat Tony Blair.
A deal was struck at Upper Street restaurant Granita that Tony would lead and Gordon would follow him after two terms in office. And so began a bitter battle over who would rule from Number 10.
Tony Blair was elected leader of the Labour Party that autumn, after an internal election battle that offered John Prescott (later Tony’s deputy prime minister) and Margaret Beckett as alternatives. Gordon Brown was to be his “End of boom and bust” chancellor.
But the selection of Tony Blair as leader was made much further back down the track. And some say before John Smith’s death. After 18 years of what was called “Tory misrule”, euphoria at political change greeted Blair as he entered Downing Street in May 1997.
Nine years and three victories on, while losing five million Labour votes in 2006, Tony Blair left office with no apologies for an Iraq war based on lies that will forever be his legacy.
One of his last comments as outgoing PM was: “I did what I thought was right”. But all of us can say he got it wrong and over a million died for the vanity that replaced diplomacy with bombs.
New Labour was said by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to be her greatest success. That all depends how you define success?