Tony Blair and David Cameron have this in common: that despite their many achievements (Blair’s, anyway), they will be mainly remembered in history for their two great catastrophic failures of judgment – the Iraq war, and the EU referendum. Other twentieth-century British prime ministers who share that burden are Anthony Eden (Suez) and Neville Chamberlain (appeasement; though I think he’s been unfairly traduced over that). Going further back, one might add Lord North (American independence) to this list; and – before the days of prime ministers – kings John ‘Lackland’, Richard III and Charles I. These are some of the most notorious unheroic ‘losers’ in British history. You can be a heroic loser, too: viz. King Harold, Joan of Arc, and even Adolf Hitler in the minds of some deluded people today. But what unites all those others is that they are seen, or will I believe be seen in the future, as pathetic losers. That’s a dreadful historical reputation to bear, and afterwards to carry to the next world.
In the cases of Blair and Cameron, this might be considered a shame, because neither of them is a noticeably bad man. But then the two things don’t always go together. Good men and women can have bad effects, and vice-versa; or, as I put it in one of my books (concerning the British empire), maleficence – bad things happening – doesn’t necessarily follow on from malevolence; or – conversely – beneficence from benevolence. A lot of the evils that came out of the British empire were the unwanted results of the best of intentions – ‘the road to hell’, and all that. It’s the same with Blair and Cameron: the first a holy fool, the second a smooth and privileged empty-head. Perhaps their only real sin was over-self confidence; the idea that they could do the job they were elected to do. Which is a shame, as we would like to blame them more – it’s this that lies behind all those ‘BLIAR’ taunts – because, in an old-fashioned, perhaps Christian way, it fits in with our view of the ‘wages’ of sin: that it’s evil-doers who will get their come-uppance, by a kind of moral symmetry. But that’s not how history works. It’s not a question of morality, or motive, or what the Romans called vertu; but of judgment. That is what will damn Blair and Cameron in History-land.