It is somewhat fitting that the traditional time of year for reflection should see a wide-ranging review of the legacy of Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister.
The media has been deflected from the usual round-up of the year’s events after publication of the report into Blair’s leadership by the Chatham Houuse think tank (http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/).
There are numerous damning appraisals in the study, written by the organisation’s soon to depart director Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas. It provides plenty of material for political opponents to make Blair’s final few months at 10 Downing Street a little more uncomfortable than he would have wanted.
There are a few crumbs of comfort. The Prime Minister is praised for his work on tackling climate change and the role he has played in the rehabilitation of Libya (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6190909.stm).
However, Prof Bulmer-Thomas is not so generous with his praise of Blair’s foreign policy when it relates to Iraq. Indeed, he maintains that despite military, political and financial sacrifices by the UK, the Prime Minister had been unable to influence the Bush administration in “any significant way”.
Chatham House is a respected authority on foreign affairs, so when Prof Bulmer-Thomas suggests there is no such thing as a special relationship between the UK and US then it will take more than a few denials from No 10 or the Cabinet to dissuade those who believe Blair has damaged the country by aligning himself so close to President George Bush.
Prof Bulmer-Thomas goes so far as suggesting that despite displaying unswerving loyalty to the White House, Blair has received nothing positive in return from the Bush administration. “Blair has learned the hard way that loyalty in international politics counts for nothing,” said Prof Bulmer-Thomas.
He also maintains that whoever succeeds Mr Blair as Prime Minister will have to work very hard to restore harmonious relationships with European partners that have almost been sacrificed by Blair in his attempts to stay at Bush’s shoulder. Prof Bulmer-Thomas points out that Blair was able to keep some perspective in his relationships with previous US President Bill Clinton and the EU, managing to forge a two-way dialogue with the White House and play a leading role in Europe.
But since the Bush administration took control of the White House, the EU partners have increasingly been marginalised in favour of what ultimately could prove to be a futile attempt to foster this near mythical “special relationship” with America.
In truth this relationship has always appeared to be less of a two-way partnership than a rather pitiful fawning on our part to the “last great super-power” (sic).
Apart, perhaps, from the friendship forged between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan – built more on the fact that for once the most formidable and dominating character lived in No 10 and not the White House – it has always appeared that the UK blindly chased a relationship and the US teased occasionally but never really committed.
That suspicion has been confirmed for many in the current Bush-Blair relationship.
Neither of these world statesman come out of the one-sided relationship with any credit. Blair has increasingly looked like a desperate poodle trying in vain to please its master, while an arrogant Bush has given up attempting to disguise the superiority he feels towards our Prime Minister.
Both Blair’s pleas for attention and Bush’s contempt are wildly misplaced.
The mess that is Iraq will forever be associated with the Bush-Blair axis. It is likely to take years to bring any sense of normality to Iraq and neither Bush nor Blair will be able to put any distance between themselves and the catalogue of grave errors that have been committed since the allied forces first invaded in attempt to topple Saddam Hussein.
It was all looking so much more positive for Tony Blair in the first half of his time as Prime Minister – George Bush was also riding high in the opinion polls. But the second half has been far less comfortable for both of them.
The fact is both Blair and Bush are fighting what increasingly looks like a losing battle to forge anything remotely positive in their legacies.