Hello Gordon, Goodbye Tony

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The change of guard at Number 10 Downing Street is welcome for what it is – mere change. But the more things change at the British seat of power, the more they remain the same.

Tony Blair has gone. Like many British leaders who have fallen by the wayside, he will not be remembered with great fondness in many parts of the world. Similarly, not all British people remember his tenure with nostalgia.

This contrasts sharply with the rise of Blair and Labour a decade ago, when this young idealist and leftist held promise for a better future. Many had hoped that idealist Blair would through dialogue contribute positively to better management of international relations. There was hope across the world that in Tony Blair, the British would advance the cause of all humanity and help create a better world for all mankind after the disappointing years of erstwhile leader Margaret Thatcher who was known for her stubbornness.

There was hope for better terms of trade and aid to Africa and the resolution of the Middle East problem. But with time, Blair proved to the world that he was just another British prime minister. And now with his departure, there is less mourning for him. He has made a few friends in Africa and the Middle East but he has also made enemies.

Blair’s Africa Commission was a brilliant idea. The idea however got a knock and remains a white elephant and a pipe dream because it has been starved of money. Blair got distracted from it by the Iraq war, no doubt. The former British leader also gets kudos for debt relief for African countries and his efforts at the G8, but that too has not delivered much.

Blair did not choose to. He had to go early because the numbers of likely British voters for the Labour Party in the coming elections were not adding up.

The opposition Conservative Party has mounted a strong political comeback and defeat was staring Tony Blair in the face. Sensing trouble, his party forced him to call it quits.

Blair’s replacement in Gordon Brown is no new blood. Brown has been in Blair’s shadow all these years. He helped fashion many of the key policies of the Labour Party. There is therefore little hope that there would be substantive changes in policies and a radical departure from the current agenda.

The Blair vs Brown political posturing would certainly differ. There would be change in terms of emphasis and style between the two men, but that is all. These men are tied together by a common history, a common struggle and destiny. They are birds of the same feather and are generally bound to do things the same way.

Blair has been depicted as George Bush’s poodle. He has maintained a relationship of unequals with George W. Bush. He has allowed Bush to lead him by the nose all the time. Even the more restrained and world icon Nelson Mandela has frowned at this relationship, forcing him to liken the former British prime minister to an American foreign secretary.

It is the Iraq debacle that has wrought all these on Tony Blair. The man would probably have served his entire term and gone away with high approval ratings. For this, he has himself to blame. He failed to listen. He allowed himself to be used by Bush. He somewhat became Bushy and at times resembled him by seeking to lecture to the world.

Bush’s bravado and arrogance were mimicked by Blair some of the times and how sad this was for a well-mannered British lad. It is unfortunate that history robbed Blair of Bill Clinton and got Bush instead. Blair and Clinton have a few things in common at least. They include commonsense, intelligence, being articulate and a liberal outlook on issues of global concern.

As he left Downing Street this week, Blair was followed by protestors who castigated him for all their troubles, including the loss of their loved ones in the Iraq war. The ghost of Iraq will follow him unless a quick fix is found to this problem.

Blair’s appointment as a Special Representative on the Middle East for the quartet – US, UK, Russia and the EU – will be another disaster unless he shows he is independent from Bush and Israel. His reputation as an honest broker could be damaged unless he takes centre stage and not be on Bush’s far right. And Blair’s woes should be a lesson for Brown. Otherwise, the writing is on the wall.

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