Never has honouring a former British prime minister elicited such an outpouring of scorn and outrage from the British public. Giving a gong to this warmonger could well mark the beginning of the end for the UK honours system.
Many Brits have believed for some time now that the honours system in the UK is rotten to the core. The public is sick to death of Z-rate celebrities and multimillionaire sport stars receiving what we call ‘gongs’ for simply doing their jobs. Many are also fed up with political apparatchiks and lickspittles making their way onto the lists.
However, there has been nothing like the furore caused by former UK prime minister Tony Blair receiving a knighthood in the 2021 New Year’s Honours List. In this dishonourable roster, Blair received the highest form of knighthood – a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.
Within three days of the announcement, a massive 670,000 people had signed a petition calling for Blair to have his knighthood rescinded. Moreover, an opinion poll taken over the last few days has revealed that 63% of Brits are opposed to calling Blair ‘Sir,’ with only 14% in favour.
This is an unprecedented negative reaction to the honour, which is usually a given for a former PM. The only time I can think of something similar was the campaign to have paedophile ‘Sir’ Jimmy Savile stripped of his knighthood, and this was after he was dead (a futile act, incidentally, since knighthoods expire on death).
The fact is, Blair is almost universally despised in the UK. Not because of his domestic record, although I personally thought his New Labour project was a disaster for the country, but because of his foreign policy.
Blair’s cosying up to the neo conservatives in George W. Bush’s White House was his downfall. He was drunk on the adulation he received in Washington DC, and was therefore prepared to follow Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld into the ‘War Against Terror,’ regardless of consequences, or, more importantly, the evidence.
In political parlance, Blair was prepared to be ‘economical with truth’ to get UK forces into Iraq. The ‘dodgy dossier’, which he used to convince the UK parliament to support the invasion, is now part of British political folklore. It was also the turning point of his career.
Opposition to the Iraq War was one of the few issues that unified both Left and Right in the UK. On the Left, there were the Jeremy Corbyn-types who generally did not believe in war full-stop, and those like myself and my colleagues, who viewed the whole escapade as nonsensical and not in the national interest.
Nevertheless, on the basis of that dossier, the UK followed the US like a loyal lackey and partook in the invasion of Iraq. That lapdog stigma stuck in the craw of many Brits, especially when Bush greeted the British PM at a G8 summit by saying “Yo Blair.” It reeked of a disrespectful, pathetic, and one-sided relationship.
It is said that all former PMs deserve to be honoured. Indeed, of Blair’s predecessors, Jim Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher entered the House of Lords as well as being made Knights of the Garter, and Ted Heath and John Major were also both accepted into the order.
There was, however, no issue about honouring these former PMs, even though some were controversial, particularly Heath’s slavish attitude towards Europe and Thatcher’s economics. But with Blair it has been different, and it merely serves to highlight the antipathy the British public still holds towards this man.
In contrast to the public, Labour leader (and knight of the realm) Sir Keir Starmer, has supported the knighthood of his predecessor. He said, “Tony Blair was a very successful prime minister of this country and made a huge difference to the lives of millions of people in this country.”
But what Starmer fails to say is that Blair also made a “difference” to the lives of many other people. For example, what about the 200,000 Iraqis who have died since the invasion of 2003? And then what about the 179 British soldiers who died in the Middle East fighting a war based on lies?
For example, Mark Thompson, whose son Kevin, 21, was killed in Iraq in 2007, said, “I don’t think the Queen has thought how this decision will upset the families,” and has threatened to return his dead son’s medals.
Current PM Boris Johnson
has played the role of Pontius Pilate and has washed his hands of the decision to award Blair a knighthood. In the meantime, he has thrown our elderly Monarch under a bus. His spokesman claimed that the current PM did not have “any input” in the decision.
And this gets to the point: I think the Queen, who has had an awful 2021 and has lost her husband, has been poorly advised. I would argue that her advisers should have known that giving a knighthood to Blair is like raising a red rag to a bull.
With many already questioning the honours system, either by the choice of those granted gongs, or on moral grounds of such a thing still existing in the first place, the last thing that was needed was to throw a controversial figure like Blair into the mix.
Nonetheless, will the public protest against Blair’s knighthood succeed? Probably not, and we’ll just have to get used to calling him ‘Sir Tony.’ The public, however, has shown how it feels about the most hated PM in modern times, and a man who many consider to be a war criminal.
Even for me, a staunch defender of the UK’s traditions and its monarchy, the knighting of Tony Blair makes me question, for the first time, whether the UK honours system is really fit for purpose.