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Tony Blair : farewell letters

Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie Camilla Toulmin Patrice de Beer Godfrey Hodgson Brian Brivati Mariano Aguirre
27 June 2007

Mariano Aguirre, Fride

Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie, Afford

Patrice de Beer, journalist

Brian Brivati, Kingston University

Camilla Toulmin, IIED

Godfrey Hodgson, author

Ruth Lister, Loughborough University

Nasrin Alavi, author

Abdul-Rehman Malik, Q-News

Meghnad Desai, LSE

 

***

Mariano Aguirre, Fride

A man for all seasons

Mr Blair,

You arrived in May 1997 to head the British government as the great white hope of the Labour Party and European social democracy - a young politician of the New Labour generation who was far from the old habits of the cold war. A man aware of the domestic social changes that were needed after Margaret Thatcher's neo-liberal period, with the capacity to respond to the challenges of the outside world: poverty, wars in fragile states and their impacts, environmental crisis, migrations and the construction of societies with different identities. Last but not least, a statesman who could be a bridge between Washington, London and Brussels in order to build a progressive transatlantic dialogue that moved away from the superpower politics of the post-1945 order.

The outcome has been very different. Your taste for power and celebrity, shared by a shallow media all too ready to indulge its glamorous reflection, mixed perfectly with the mediocrity of British domestic politics. The film The Queen showed well your capacity to adapt the old symbols of empire to an era of populist collective sentiment that too was fostered and exploited by the media. Your cleverness in being able to say what audiences wanted to hear was particularly effective among many intellectuals and academics, satisfied with a prime minister who appeared - spin-doctors permitting - to speak their language.

Mariano Aguirre is a journalist and writer on international relations. He is co-director of the Fundacion para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Dialogo Exterior (Fride), in Madrid. He is the former director of the Peace Research Center (CIP), Madrid and has been a programme officer at the Ford Foundation in New York. He is a fellow of the Transnational Institute, Amsterdam.

He writes here in his personal capacity and not that of Fride.

Mariano Aguirre's latest article in openDemocracy is: "Power and paradox in the United Nations"
(7 November 2006)

Meanwhile, when you chose to spend summer holidays with Silvio Berlusconi, you displayed more than a bizarre preference: this was New Labour's symbolic contribution to the global transformation of politics into something both superficial and quasi-comic, but underpinned by deadly serious, reactionary transnational alliances.

This lightweight style and method of governance found their moment in an international political context dominated by the transition from Bill Clinton to George W Bush, 11 September 2001 and the launch of the "war on terror", Donald Rumsfeld's division between "new" and "old" Europe. In this brave new world, you played two roles: the second-in-command in the global war, and the sensible frontman whose rhetoric at the G8 on climate change and poverty in Africa allowed extravagant promise to conceal failures of delivery.

Your lies and excesses during and after the Iraq war should have been enough to bury you forever; but your party and enough of your domestic constituency as well as international media pundits were sufficient to keep you breathing politically - a ghost with endless life.

Until today, 27 June 2007, when you visited the "real" queen to relinquish your mandate. But the ghost has an afterlife: for you are now (pending, it appears, Rusian approval) to be appointed special representative of the Quartet (United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations) to the middle-east peace process. The choice reveals the depth of the Quartet's commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: nice words, now to be performed by a mediocre actor. It is too a confirmation of what modern international politics has become in your decade in power: a charade and a shame.

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Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie

An African goodbye

Dear Mr Blair,

I write to you from Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, a country you visited recently to great acclaim from a large number of Sierra Leoneans, grateful as they remain for your military intervention in 2000 that ended the eleven-year civil war. Curiously, the British government, Sierra Leone's largest donor, is now withholding aid from the government, less than two months away from presidential and parliamentary elections. One view is that Britain is making unrealistic demands for a whole host of reforms, which would be impossible to deliver at this late hour. Most observers assume that Britain simply wants to delay handouts of aid until after the elections because it so distrusts the Sierra Leonean government, which it suspects will divert incoming resources to fight an election it desperately wants to win.

Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie works for the London-based non-profit organisation, the African Foundation for Development (Afford)

Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie's latest article in openDemocracy is : "Africa at the G8 summit: déjà vu?"
(7 June 2007)

Well, maybe the government of Sierra Leone isn't too worried right now. After all, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya swept into Freetown this week bearing gifts that will boost the election war-chest. When you feted Gaddafi on your valedictory (or vanity, depending on the point of view) tour of Africa - which later took in Sierra Leone - you hailed his contribution to counter-terrorism and the fight against al-Qaida (and lauded a £455m oil and gas exploration deal for British company BP).

But in Sierra Leone, the visit to Gaddafi is controversial, if not downright unpopular - here many Sierra Leoneans think he should join Charles Taylor in the dock (or at least apologise) for his alleged role in training the same "revolutionaries" that your troops helped to defeat a decade later. Perhaps it's your Christian faith that has allowed you to forgive Gaddafi's past misdemeanours. Either way, it's a funny old world...

So, sir, as you bow out, I salute your moral conviction, your willingness to lead from the front, your passion about and commitment to Africa. But your government doesn't trust the one government it has done most to assist in Africa with British taxpayers' money - clearly demonstrating the limits to aid in leveraging reform in Africa where African "partners" themselves lack full commitment to such reforms. You have consistently embraced African leaders who have shown their true, democratically deficient colours when it mattered most - during elections that they have disgracefully and sometimes brutally manipulated to achieve their own ends (usually to remain in power). This all looks so much murkier than the ethical dimension to foreign policy that your regime promised a decade ago.

Rather like the Chinese politician's assessment of the French revolution - that it is too early to tell - it may be premature to speak of your legacy, though I fear that evidence of a positive, lasting impact upon Africa of your ten years in power may be hard to find.

Perhaps in future, it might be better to put more faith in the capacity of ordinary Africans to come up with solutions to the challenges Africa faces and less faith in the good guys who turn out to be bad guys.

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Patrice de Beer, French journalist

Bye-Bye, Tony...

...Or should I say "Bye-Bye, Mr Blair", as you are now going to join the glamorous world of political jetsetters?

I remember, it was a zillion years ago - in 1997 - when, as Le Monde's correspondent in London, I was invited to your celebration party in London's South Bank. A new world was opening up, not only for Britain, but for the left and for Europe. A new brand of politics seemed to be coming of age, young and full of promises. The "third way" initiated by Bill Clinton and you showed the path to the old left anywhere, from Old Labour to French socialists. Your very youth was an example of political rejuvenation for a country like mine ruled for decades by archaeo-politicians. Your fresh promises - of devolution, peace in Northern Ireland, morality in foreign relations and to put Britain "at the heart of Europe" - created huge expectations.

Patrice de Beer is former London and Washington correspondent for Le Monde.

Patrice de Beer's latest article in openDemocracy is: "Sarko's mountain" (26 June 2007)

Some were fulfilled. Devolution in Scotland and Wales is now in place, peace has returned (if painfully and slowly) to Ulster. Yet, for those who hoped that arms-dealing would become ethical, your decision to halt judicial investigations into the mega-sale to the Saudis has come as a shock. And, for those who hoped that, "at the heart of Europe", Britain would show the way to more pragmatism and less national egoism, you appear to have acted not as a dove of hope but a mole helping to destroy anything idealistic in the European Union, the greatest peacetime endeavour of the 20th century.

Moreover, having created a transatlantic bridge thanks to your affinity with Bill Clinton, your disgraceful acquiescence with the foreign policy of his successor (notably his war in Iraq) has destroyed your credentials with the old continent, with the left and with most of the world (not least in the very middle east that may now be your next platform).

You disdained holding hands with the European left - for whom you could have been both a beacon and a most welcome kick in the backside - and preferred to side with the worst of the Euro-right: Spanish premier Josè Maria Aznar in Spain and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. In doing so you acquired something of this right's love of money, in a melancholy example of a notionally centre-left leader's shameless courting of the wealthy at the expenses of his image of virtue.

Dear Tony, you have managed to make the world forget the best of what you have done, linked as you are to what's worst in our daily lives: your unbelievable mistake in following Bush's Iraq policy despite so many warnings, thus bringing terrorism even closer to our homes; your hubristic refusal to admit you could have been wrong; your intimacy with money; your willed imprisonment by a spin-machine which ate alive your reputation as a man of principle.

As you depart, all this has persuaded the many who once believed in pragmatic "Blairism" to regard your name as a byword for disillusion and waste of promise. Let's hope, for your sake, that the passage of time allows History to sift the wheat from the chaff. A hard task for historians.

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Brian Brivati, Kingston University

Unfinished business

Dear Mr Blair,

Power allowed you to accumulate political capital which you can now use to reach audiences in virtually any state in the world. Some people in those states might even listen, so talk to them. Your ability as a communicator, unrivalled in your political generation in the United Kingdom, means that once that audience is captive and listening they might hear. Your sense of the moral purpose of politics means that the things you want to talk about matter. So there is a chance that some of your global audience might learn and make different choices. That is the only power you have left. Ex-prime ministers, ex-presidents cannot shape current policy. Don't try. But you can now be a teacher.

Brian Brivati is professor in the faculty of arts and social science, Kingston University. Among his books are The Labour Party: A Centenary History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), Hugh GaitskellPolitico's, 2006), and End of Decline : The Blair-Brown Governments and the Modernisation of Britain (Politico's, 2007)

Brian Brivati's latest article on openDemocracy is "The Blair audit: war, human rights, liberalism"
(8 January 2007)

After ten years you grasp the complexity of the world and seem to understand it better than you did in 2003. You understand that there are two sides in these conflicts - those who believe and embrace freedom and those who wish to destroy it and you understand that both these sides exist in every state no matter what religion influences its politics. You seem to stand against all fundamentalisms and for all liberalisms, including those strands within Sunni and Shi'a Islam that want to prevent the current civil war intensifying across the two interpretations and, indeed, within them. You also seem to see that the regime-change projects for middle-eastern democratisation were fundamentally flawed, even if based on the right intention of removing a genocidal regime that had invaded its neighbours.

Given this wisdom you do not, it seems, want to abandon those in the middle east and Africa to whom you have offered hope and to whom - in many places from Kurdistan to Kosovo, Sierra Leone to East Timor - you remain a hero. So the question you face is not how to earn more money but how to spend the moral and political capital you have earned.

Spend it by showing humility about the mistakes that you made. Admit that you did not play your hand well enough with the United States going into the war in Iraq. You should have insisted on better post-war planning, more and not fewer troops, and you should have not invaded without a second United Nations resolution.

Come clean and say what I suspect you actually believe now to be the case - that it was right to go into Iraq, it was right to change the regime of Saddam Hussein, but that the way it was done was flawed. Open up that debate and lead it. You need to do this to save the notion of humanitarian intervention from the dustbin of history. The slow and ponderous wisdom of those who talk opportunistically only of the difficulty of stopping the mass slaughter in Darfur, and not of the imperative to halting it, now dominates. You allowed that voice to become the dominant voice by the mistakes that you made in 2003. You have a duty to save the principle of "responsibility to protect'' from becoming a meaningless slogan.

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Camilla Toulmin, IIED

The hottest issue

Dear Tony,

More than any other global leader, you have understood the huge importance of climate change and the threat this poses for human life on this one and only earth. Your personal commitment to pushing for discussion at the very highest level has transformed the global debate and, I hope, given us all a window for finding ways to address this complex problem. That President Bush signed up to working within a United Nations-led process to agree what should follow the Kyoto protocol in 2012 is in large part thanks to you, and the support given to a range of state-level initiatives, such as Governor Schwarzenegger's conversion to carbon trading in 2006. Let's hope that Bush's u-turn on climate change is sincere, rather than a tactical means to hold up and sabotage the post-Kyoto process.

More disappointing has been your unwillingness to show leadership on climate change issues domestically, with abandonment of the fuel-duty escalator in the face of protests by lorry-drivers. The shift to a low-carbon economy will take more than a bit of carbon-trading: it will mean confronting difficult choices where there is no win-win solution. It will likely involve road-pricing as well as a significant hike in prices of carbon-intensive commodities and activities. There will always be lobbies trying to block such changes, as we saw with the million-plus signatures to your electronic consultation on road-pricing. But leadership is about making tough choices and explaining why they are essential.

Camilla Toulmin is the director of the International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED), a policy research NGO based in London

Camilla Toulmin's latest article in openDemocracy is:

"Climate change: from science and economics to human rights''
(7 November 2006) - with Saleemul HuqChina is now the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, in part due to all the manufacturing capacity from much of the rich world relocating there. Britain, and Europe more generally, have to find ways of making the technology available to bolt on carbon-capture and storage (CC&S) to all new power stations, if we are not to see our hopes for a reasonable climate go up in smoke. What a pity then that BP's experiments with CC&S were abandoned a month before you left office. Surely, this was something too important to ditch?

Climate change has the potential to unleash weapons of mass destruction upon humanity. The latest assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides the clearest evidence of this. We need to make rapid progress between now and COP-15, to be held in Copenhagen towards the end of 2009, and at which we hope for agreement of the post-2012 arrangements. Thanks for the lead you have given - let's hope we can follow-up with some very concrete measures that bridge the gap between the fine words and the hard graft required to ensure a robust, ambitious and fair deal for planet and people.

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Godfrey Hodgson, author

The lost leader


Just for a handful of silver he left us

Just for a ribbon to stick in his coat.

(Robert Browning, on William Wordsworth's betrayal of the ideals of his youth)

The silver, and it will be more than a handful, will come later: a book contract from Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins, no doubt, and a lecture tour at $100,000 a pop to blue-rinsed conservative Daughters of the American Revolution. But the ribbon - the honour and the glory - is supposed to come first, in the form of an appointment to represent the Quartet as a peacemaker in the middle east. The trouble is that there will be neither honour nor glory in that.

Godfrey Hodgson is the author of More Equal Than Others: America from Nixon to the new century (Princeton University Press, 2006)

Godfrey Hodgson's latest article in openDemocracy is:

‘‘Queen Elizabeth meets President George'' (9 May 2007)

You are supposed to represent four parties - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. In reality, you represent only one: your friend George W Bush. The European Union, we can be sure, would never spontaneously have chosen you, of all people, as a man of peace. The same can be said of the United Nations. And we know what Vladimir Putin thinks of Blair.

You are being sent to the middle east, exactly as we overheard you asking to be sent there in the infamous "Yo, Blair!" tape, as an emissary of the American president, and as a junior emissary at that, one whose failure would be acceptable, as humiliation of Condoleezza Rice would not.

Some of us in Britain are ashamed that our (now former) prime minister should be used as a middle-level agent of a foreign power whose politics you understands as little as our feelings. Have you not noticed that Bush, Dick Cheney and neocons like Elliott Abrams are being rejected by growing majorities in every poll?

Our sense of betrayal is trivial, however. There is a more serious reason for regretting that you have accepted this assignment. There is no chance that it will work. The White House explains that your role will be to help the Palestinians. Interesting, then, that the White House, whose top official dealing with Israel is Elliott Abrams, an inveterate supporter of the Israeli right, did not bother to consult the Palestinians. Their prompt reaction was "No, thanks''. Why should they trust a man who opposed a ceasefire in 2006 to give the Israelis more time to bomb Lebanon? Washington is only displaying support for Fatah, the arch-enemy for decades, because it is so spooked by Hamas and its capture of Gaza.

You are showing once again that either you do not understand American politics or you simply don't care so long as you can continue to strut on the world stage as a gilded glove-puppet. If you imagine, however, that trying to pull George W Bush's chestnuts out of the fire in the middle east will end well - for the Israelis, for the Palestinians or for the peace of the world, or for hyou - you are less of a political wizard than your admirers in London and Washington have told us for a decade.

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Ruth Lister, Loughborough University

A widening gap

Dear Tony Blair,

For those of us who opposed the war, it's difficult to see past the disaster of Iraq. But I'm sure others will be writing about that and a letter on your departure should reflect on the positives as well as the negatives of your time in office. Focusing on domestic policy, I would single out Northern Ireland, the dismantling of the barriers to full citizenship for lesbians and gay men and the introduction of the minimum wage.

You also surprised us with your commitment to the eradication of child poverty in your 1999 Beveridge lecture. But subsequently it felt as if the passion to achieve that goal came from Gordon Brown rather than yourself. Indeed, I recall a seminar where you listed the government's main achievements off the top of your head and didn't even mention the reduction in child poverty, which to my mind was one of the real concrete achievements you could point to.

Ruth Lister is professor of social policy at the University of Loughborough. Among her books is Poverty (Polity, 2004)

Moreover, we learned from Andrew Rawnsley's BBC television documentary that you told Frank Field you wanted to ‘'cut welfare''. You have frequently used "tough'' language about welfare and those reliant on it, which has served to construct social security recipients as ‘'other'' to "hard-working'' families and taxpayers. For example, your description of incapacity benefit recipients as "languishing on benefit'' was experienced by many as showing the lack of respect you call for in others. And authoritarian policies have circumscribed the civil rights of some of the very children the child-poverty strategy is designed to help.

Your government has also contributed to the demonisation of asylum-seekers. Your treatment of this group has been shameful. It was rightly condemned recently by the parliamentary joint committee on human rights as "a deliberate policy of destitution of this highly vulnerable group'' and as falling below "the requirements of the common law of humanity and of international human rights law''. Asylum policy has belied your commitment to internationalism and social inclusion.

Tackling social exclusion was one of the priorities you identified on coming to power. But you tended to see social exclusion as a series of discrete problems and "problem groups'' that can be tackled and helped without addressing deeper, underlying structural inequalities. (The same was true of your approach to gender inequalities where anything that smacked of explicit feminism was eschewed.)

You were not interested in inequality, as you made clear in your infamous interview with Jeremy Paxman just before the 2001 election when you refused to comment on the acceptability of the widening gap between rich and poor. Before even coming to power, you vetoed a 50% tax rate for those earning over £100,000. As Peter Mandelson put it, you were ‘‘seriously relaxed about people becoming very, very, rich'', without apparent thought for the impact on social cohesion and social relations. Instead you propounded a meritocratic model which, in the name of opportunity, serves to legitimate the rich-poor gap. But inequality is now at least on the political agenda. I hope your successor will take it more seriously.

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Nasrin Alavi, author

The Iran mirror

In writing to you I feel compelled to borrow a few words from a letter sent in May 2006 by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to his United states counterpart, George W Bush. I sincerely hope that you don't mind. But it just makes it easier to communicate with a professedly godly man using the words of another who feels equally chummy with the almighty.

So as Ahmadinejad puts it: "Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ (PBUH), the great Messenger of God, feel obliged to respect human rights, present liberalism as a civilization model, announce one's opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and WMDs, make "War on Terror" his slogan, and finally, work towards the establishment of a unified international community - a community which Christ and the virtuous of the Earth will one day govern, but at the same time, have countries attacked. The lives, reputations and possessions of people destroyed and on the slight chance of the presence of a few criminals in a village, city, or convoy for example, the entire village, city or convoy set ablaze."

Nasrin Alavi is the author of We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs (Portobello Books, 2005) Nasrin Alavi's latest article on openDemocracy"Axis of Evil vs Great Satan: wrestling to normality" ( is: 2 May 2007)

Mr Blair, today I see no point in commenting on or writing to you about anything other than your new role as a special peace envoy for the international diplomatic Quartet on the middle east. It has been said that you hope to be ultimately remembered for your contribution in helping to bring peace to Ireland. So it must be said that brokering a tangible peace in a region beset by deep hatred and conflict for hundreds of years is a credit that you richly deserve.

There is reason to be hopeful, if we can assume that you will draw on the challenging lessons learnt from Northern Ireland in your new role in the middle east. Yet your adamant backing of the United States and Israel in the July-August 2006 war over the bombing of Lebanon reeks of the "undeniable contradictions" that leaders like Ahmadinejad prosper from and did nothing but push back the chances of peace. Such methods only confirm to the people in the middle east the double standards of western leaders toward the region.

It has also been asked many a time. But throughout the long years that the United Kingdom grappled with unrest in Ireland did you or any of you predecessors even consider sanctioning the blanket bombing of Dublin or the bomb-making factories in Belfast.

Today as we look at a thriving Ireland, we are all thankfully aware that you did not. So as you set off in your new role as a peace envoy my only hope is that you will truthfully look back and draw on the hard and valuable lessons learnt in Northern Ireland.

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Abdul-Rehman Malik, Q-News

A long road

Dear Tony (or Yo, Blair),

George's informality shouldn't have bothered us so much. You always liked that kind of casual, "first names only please" familiarity. It went so well with Oasis, designer jeans and active listening. I didn't even live in Britain when you were first elected, yet I remember being excited (Canadians often get unduly thrilled by what happens in the "mother country" - a residual colonial impulse) at the possibility of the kind of "big ideas" transformative politics you promised. Your electorate, eager for some skip-in-the-step political change, were willing to give you more than one chance to make good.

Change came, but with a strong dose of political prozac. Back-door Thatcherism and contracting-out public services didn't need to get in the way of blue-sky spin. Your decade in power forever seemed to be prefaced by consensus-talk and forward-not-back sloganeering. With all the latest social-policy thinkers crowding your front room (Anthony Giddens, Robert Putnam and Julian Le Grand to name a few), it looked like you were on to something. In the end it felt like intellectual faddism. You weren't a philosopher-king. You were a head chef standing over a hodge-podge policy stew: it tasted alright, some of the time.

Abdul-Rehman Malik is a contributing editor of Q-News

Abdul-Rehman Malik's latest article in openDemocracy is: "Beyond formula: a civic multiculturalism" (4 June 2007)

British Muslims should have had little to complain about. New Labour ushered in a period of unprecedented access to the corridors of power. Muslim peers, MPs and even a few knighthoods were meant to demonstrate that Muslims were no longer on the margins of the British body politic. Some Muslim schools got voluntary-aided status and hard-campaigning community activists saw the ossified race-based classifications start to soften. Funding streams opened up and there were units struck to deal with "faith". Yet after 9/11 you jumped headlong into a "war on terror" not of your own making. When the time came to be an international statesman - independent, inventive, inspired - we got a civil-liberties clawback, a misguided battle of hearts and minds and, eventually, Iraq. Any gains made under your premiership have simply been overshadowed.

When millions came to have that "big conversation", you retreated into moral certitudes. Cool Britannia wanted nothing to do with you anymore.

Sitting in the press gallery, I finally got a chance to see you in the flesh as you delivered your final sermon to Muslim grandees at Lancaster House. Contrition would have been too much to ask for, but your language was more generous than usual as you called on the media, that soon-to-be "feral beast", to pay more attention to the "authentic voice of Islam". The hand-wringing about the "arc of extremism" was replaced by earnest entreaties to get a solution for Palestine. When questioned about ethics and foreign policy, you paused - uncharacteristically I was later told - and said that you "had to choose your words carefully." As you bounded out of the room, I noticed more smiles and nods from the audience than I had thought. I was astonished when one Muslim activist sidled up to me afterwards and said in a bit of a conspiratorial tone, "He was good, wasn't he? I mean Iraq was bad, but you can't say he wasn't a great leader."

Tony, you old charmer! Still got some of that '97 magic left in you, eh?

I don't think charm will help you in your new envoy duties, though. Time might be better spent finding a nice monastery and spending the next few years deconstructing the spin in your soul. The engine of murder and mayhem you helped launch shows no signs of sputtering. Yes, yes, we know: you only did what you thought was right. Saying it repeatedly doesn't excuse the error. God surely forgives, but He also judges. The road to hell, as a religious man like you knows, is paved with good intentions.

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Meghnad Desai, LSE

Good and bad timing

Dear Tony,

As a member of the Labour Party of thirty-five years' standing, I must first thank you for having overcome the party's historic unelectability - which had meant that during the 20th century it had never been elected to two full terms with a proper majority. You led us to victory three times, albeit with a lot of help from your friends and colleagues and all of us. Yet you made the difference.

Indeed, you were the difference. You were a Christian Democrat, a category unknown in British politics, never a socialist. We as a party made a devil's pact with you to make us electable. You delivered. You also changed the party for ever though some of us are in denial about that. The old left can not exist any more with globalisation, with economic interdependence rather than autonomy, with no future in old-fashioned manufacturing and with knowledge as the only competitive weapon developed economies have. Gordon Brown shared your vision and delivered a successful economy, Labour's one constant headache in the past.

Meghnad Desai is professor of economics, and director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of Economics. He is a Labour party peer in Britain's upper house of parliament. His latest book is Marx's Revenge (Verso, 2004)

Meghnad Desai's latest article in openDemocracy is: "The roots of terror: Islam or Islamism?'' (6 February 2007)

The challenge to the United Kingdom for much of the post-1945 era has been modernity. Margaret Thatcher brutally restructured the economy, shut down unprofitable manufacturing and sold off loss-making public-sector enterprises; but there was no reform of the social services, of health, of education. You pioneered the introduction of the minimum wage, the Human Rights Act, devolution, and reform of the House of Lords by removing the hereditary principle for membership; you introduced a civil-partnership act which liberated the gay/lesbian community, and promoted a black woman for the first time to a cabinet position.

Yet people abuse you for Iraq. I do not. The arguments for liberal interventionism in your Chicago lecture of April 1999 remain valid and still the only non-cynical approach to politics in a global age. You could blame the Americans (or rather Donald Rumsfeld) for ignoring the complexities of post-Saddam Iraq which the state department had pointed out to him. The neocons underestimated the task out of arrogance and ideological delusions. You dragged yourself along thinking that you were the bridge across the Atlantic. A pity. Iraq will be your cross to bear.

Your style began to irritate all of us after the first few months: all that spin and sleaze, the running after the filthy rich, then the incompetent lying of the Iraq dossiers, the muddle over the second United Nations resolution and your press secretary Alastair Campbell's blustering about the BBC. When, in July 2003, the government scientist and weapons inspector David Kelly took his life, you lost your public. You should have let Gordon Brown take over soon after that.

And now? After a graceful retirement, don't back-seat drive, earn what you deserve, and try not to write a bad, evasive, self-glorifying memoir. Regards to Cherie, who was always an asset.

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