Outwardly smiling, open, frank, and uncomplicated, he is inwardly complex and unfathomable.
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“No,” I said, “But he is here as the President of Europe.”
“You got the Belgians running Europe?” He shook his head, now aghast at our stupidity.
Blair was tremendously impressed by Bush’s willingness to take difficult decisions and stick to them. Each man got to admire the other wholeheartedly, and so long as the Bush-Blair axis held, there was nothing unsure and hesitant about the leadership of the West, and the policies followed.
By contrast, Blair is clearly puzzled by Barack Obama, though he will not admit it. There is a paragraph toward the end of his memoir which completely baffled me:
The genius of Barack Obama was precisely that he reached out and over the partisan divisions. He did so explicitly. The desire of some of his present-day critics to drag him back from the centre is absurd. The espousal of centrist politics is not a betrayal. It is what he promised.
I have read this paragraph forward and backward, sideways and upside down. Whatever way, it makes no sense. I think even Blair would have found it hard to work with Obama, not so much because Obama is anti-British — though he is, fundamentally so — but because he is also, albeit less obviously, anti-American. And Blair is pro-American, to a fault.
WHEN BLAIR ALLOWED HIMSELF to be pushed out by the Gordon Brown faction he was only in his mid-fifties. He is still a mere 57.
The only comparable example, in British history, of an outstanding politician being retired so young is that of Lloyd George, the victor in World War I, who was pushed out in 1922 at the age of 58, and never came back to power. This waste of talent, indeed genius, during the meager inter-war years is one of the most tragic stories in modern British history. I am not suggesting that Blair is a leader in the Lloyd George class. Far from it. But he is a valuable figure nonetheless, not just in a narrow British context but in the wider picture of Anglo-American relations and the leadership of the West. It is desirable that we should make full use of his qualities: friendliness, absence of party rancor, wide popular appeal, open-minded tolerance, and not least courage.
Happily Blair has not made the mistake of making himself ineligible for a return to active politics by going into the impotence of the House of Lords or the Brussels bureaucracy. He can respond to a summons or an opportunity. Britain seems to be entering an era of coalitions, turning its back on the strict dualism of monolithic parties, and pushing men of all parties toward the center. This is a good climate to give birth to a Second Spring for Blair.
Both Labour and the Liberals will probably split in the near future. Blair is well placed to take over the leadership of a merger of the responsible rumps of both. And this could be the prelude to his assuming the leadership of a much wider merger with the Tories. His temperament, his views, his commitments (including the lack of them), and his enviable capacity to get himself liked all point in this direction. So does his book, if you read between the lines. A Blair revival, it is true, does not fit in with a continued Obama presence in the White House. But nor does any other good news for the West.