Reading through the headlines, it seems that the majority of us would very much like to see the end of Tony Blair's political career. However (we are told), Mr. Blair intends to stay for a while yet, and now rather regrets his statement that he would not stand again as Prime Minister.
I think it was the Empress Theodora who urged her husband, Justinian, not to flee from Constantinople arguing that "Imperial Purple makes the best burial sheet". Certainly the reality of power does seem strangely addictive to those who hold it. Despite the old adage, attributed to Enoch Powell, that "all political careers end in failure", the fact is that few politicians set out a definite measure of success of failure. What does Tony Blair do now? He probably did not not expect in 1997 that his premiership would be defined by terror amid war but what would be a success or a failure at this point, nine years later? He can not control the exit from Iraq or Afghanistan, he can not define economic success at a time when the UK economy is stuttering. He can not link his partial constitutional reform programme together, since his plans to reform the House of Lords are now purely reactive to scandal. The wiggle room for Mr. Blair's great ideas has gone completely.
Whatever expectations Mr. Blair may have had in defining his time in office, they have all been blown off course by "events". Nevertheless, since his re-election just over a year ago, it has been clear that he was in the endgame of power. Yet, does he now start to sew up some of the loose ends in the expectation of a smooth transfer of power to his successor? Nope. He now plays coy: we are not allowed to know when he has penciled in more time to spend with his literary agent, family and friends. "Just a little more time!" seems to be the plaintive lament- but there is less and less time- and the critics of the Labour government grow more damning. The hopes that Blair engendered as his government swept to power: that he would be freer, fairer; that he would end the culture of corruption, have come to nothing. In the twilight of office it seems that all his yesterdays have lighted fools- after being drunk with arrogance and gorged with power, his great banquet now ends with crow: the knowledge of failure. Even though Mr. Cameron's Conservatives have retained their terrible table manners, when it comes to putting noses into the trough, it seems that they have little to teach Mr. Blair now about sleaziness.
For myself, I personally think the measure of the man can be seen in the way he chooses to practice his religious faith. It is currently unconstitutional for a Roman Catholic to be Prime Minister. It is a stupid law, but it is a law. Instead of changing the law openly, Mr. Blair is said to have received religious instruction at 10 Downing Street, and is believed to have taken Catholic communion on several occasions. The law is stupid, but, Mr. Blair, it does apply, and it does apply to you. Spin and lies- discreetly signaling that formally you remain a Protestant- is utterly unworthy. If Mr. Blair had had the courage to change laws directly, the courage to lead, then he might have been a good Prime Minister. In the end he is a failure because he does not lead- he prefers the stealth tax, the back door route and the spin doctor to the principled stand and a proper debate.
At the root, Mr. Blair simply does not understand that State power must be limited, and that those limits must not be breached under any circumstances- that is what a constitution is supposed to police. Now it will be a successor who lays out the case, indeed the urgent necessity, for constitutional reform. With the Conservatives and Labour spattered by sleaze, I earnestly hope that the Liberal Democrats can now make their case for setting the limits to state power. I hope too that this may prevent the kind of shallow, dishonest, mountebank leadership that Tony Blair has given us ever being taken seriously again.