ARE we to prepare for the Second Coming?
Over the past few weeks Tony Blair has been "letting it be known" to sympathetic sources in the London media that he fancies a return to mainstream British politics. He has even hinted that he'd rather like to be Prime Minister again.
There is something sad about this man, superficially so successful, hankering after supposed past glories. The irony is that he wants to return to British politics because he thinks that would give him more clout on the world stage. He is a Middle East peace envoy, he is engaged with various global charities, he gives advice on international investment. Yet he seems seriously frustrated.
He travels the world by private jet, a kind of powerless potentate. protected by several bodyguards. He delivers speeches at £200,000 a time. People pay a lot to hear him, but are they really listening? When he returns to the UK he has six houses to choose from. One of his former ministers, Peter Kilfoyle, claims he is "obsessed by money". His life is as far from the routine realities of ordinary British citizens as you could imagine, yet he still believes he can connect with ordinary folk in the street.
Do the people want him back? I very much doubt it. I'm not even sure if his own party would want him back. The Labour Party is doing quite well at the moment, in both England and Scotland, and I reckon that its more shrewd strategists would see Mr Blair as a source of division just when Ed Miliband is emerging as a reasonably credible leader.
As for the wider voting public, I'm sure their first question would be about his motivation. After all, he has written of the innocence and lack of cynicism that politicians have – before they start governing. Mr Blair was Prime Minister for 10 years and however idealistic he was at the start, his period in high office was corroded by what he himself called "perpetual immersion in government's plague-infested waters."
He was elected on a swelling tide of hope and optimism, but he wasted the magnificent opportunity he was given. He seemed narcissistic, though he tried to be tough and to create a "command premiership". Yet he could never command his one-time friend and most important colleague, Gordon Brown. His rotten relationship with Mr Brown says little for his social, let alone his political, skills.
And he will always be associated with two wars which were surely unnecessary. If al Qaeda is the enemy we were supposed to be defeating, it's a fluid and slippery enemy. You might "defeat" it in one theatre but it will simply pop up elsewhere. Yemen, Somalia, northern Kenya, wherever. Taking on al Qaeda requires a perpetual process of unconventional warfare. I'm not sure Mr Blair ever actually grasped that.
He has said that early on in power, he didn't do enough with his huge majority, and all the goodwill he had undoubtedly garnered. Yet it was in that early period that he achieved something significant: he delivered devolution,
Of course devolution did not work out as he had expected, because he did not understand non-metropolitan England, let alone Scotland. I sometimes think he should have been Mayor of London, a job at which he would have excelled.
As Prof James Mitchell and others have noted, devolution gave the SNP exactly what it needed to transform itself from being a minor party of protest into a potential party of government. It gave the SNP a political context that it could dominate.
Tony Blair apparently took little interest in the mechanics of devolution. He wanted to make his mark on the world stage. Reforming the UK constitution was low-grade stuff for him. He left the detail to lieutenants, notably the late great Donald Dewar. Ironically, devolution will be his permanent legacy. It's a good legacy. But for this frustrated man, it's not big enough: it does not resonate round the entire world.
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