Now that Tony Blair has almost stopped hanging around the office poisoning the chalice for his inevitable successor, the season for political obituaries is wide open. Not that it hadn't already started, with a raft of more and less uncharitable interim biographies and Alan Franks, in the Times magazine of 31 March, talking of Blake Morrison's South of the River coming out 'just as Blair contemplates his awful decline from resourceful young bushytail to mangy endgame quarry'. But however much future historians may discover which is unknown to the commentators of the present day, and however right or wrong Blair may be in believing that they will be kind to him, it is unlikely that either his committed admirers or his committed detractors will be led to change their views. To his admirers, his ten-year tenure as prime minister is evidence in itself of his success in satisfying the expectations and wishes of the British electorate. To his detractors, this success has been achieved through a systematic betrayal of the ideals for which the Labour Party was once thought to stand. But if there is one characteristic which in the verdict of history will distinguish him from any of his predecessors, it must surely be his own remarkable brand of naivety - a term which in his case can be stretched to encompass an unwavering air of innocence, combined with an evident capacity for self-delusion and, when it suited him, ruthlessness. Naivety is neither good nor bad in itself, and many famous politicians have had their share of it. But unless Blair, far from being the regular guy as which he likes to project himself, is a hypocrite of astonishing mendacity, the most plausible explanation of both the style and the substance of his prime ministership is that he has remained wilfully blind to how the world outside Parliament and the Labour Party actually works.
LRB 24 May 2007 | PDF Download