Closely examining the face of a high-ranking politician near the end of his or her reign can be a haunting task. Often a face that was once boyish and cheerful has sagged, wrinkled, and become hollowed out with worry. An expression that was once eager and honest has become grim, resigned, and evasive. And eyes that once beheld a grand new vision for the future now look tired and empty.
The evocative picture of Tony Blair staring out from the cover of the June Atlantic shows just such a man—a man upon whom the last seven years as the Prime Minister of Great Britain have weighed heavily. When he won the 1997 election in Britain, his energy, charm, and youth radiated from Labour campaign posters promising "New Labour. New life for Britain." Blair promised to offer something bracingly different from the preceding eighteen years of Tory leadership under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
In his piercing essay, "The Tragedy of Tony Blair," Geoffrey Wheatcroft captures the essence of the British people's view of their new Prime Minister.
He seemed not just a breath of fresh air but a true break with the past, for British politics as well as for Labour—a voice of youthful energy, the nearest thing to a John Kennedy we had ever known. Blair stepped forward as standard-bearer for a new candor and decency, a man who would move Labour away from dogmatic socialism while avoiding the Tories' meanspiritedness. He would cleave to the Atlantic alliance while re-engaging with Europe. He would reform public services while encouraging a vigorous competitive economy. Above all, he was a man the British could trust.
But Blair has not lived up to that promise. Wheatcroft offers a devastating indictment of Tony Blair's failures, the most serious of which was his support for the war in Iraq. It was a war that most of the British did not want—certainly not most of those in Blair's party. As in America, public outcry has focused on the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. And revelations about the so-called "dodgy dossier" (on which much of Blair's case against Iraq was based), along with what happened to David Kelly, the scientist who was allegedly the source for the BBC's first report that the threat may have been exaggerated, have only contributed to the British feeling of having been betrayed by their government. Trust—the supposed bedrock of Blair's government—has been squandered.