Had he stayed focused on the domestic agenda, Tony Blair's premiership could have been seen as a truly radical one. It passed more constitutional reform than any other in the 20th. century, maintained momentum on reform of public services (for better or worse), introduced the minimum wage, freed the Bank of England.....none of these are developments to be sniffed at. But Blair was undone by foreign affairs, and specifically Iraq. The new extracts from Anthony Seldon's book in the Mail on Sunday today (ok, if you really do blanch at buying a copy you can access it here online) seek to illuminate some of the complexities surrounding Blair's Iraq role.
Reading Seldon, one is struck by the fact that very often Blair's own instinct seemed to be the correct one, endorsed by some of his 'inner cabinet' team (largely comprised of unelected advisers such as foreign affairs guru David Manning). He was concerned to ensure that the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan was properly followed up. He was bothered by the fast momentum towards war with Iraq that was gathering pace in Washington. He wanted to kick-start a Middle East peace process. And the majority of his advisers, as well as the sidelined Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, were genuinely disturbed by the idea fo another front in Iraq.
What seems to have happened is that Blair himself felt utterly committed to being at the side of George Bush and endorsing whatever action the American president wanted to take. Blair certainly felt that Iraq needed 'dealing with', but when push came to shove he never sought to hold the American president back. It was, in the end, this failure that was to irreparably damage him for the rest of his time in office, and perhaps tarnish his reputation for good. And, of course, far more significant, it was to damage, ruin or end the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and fatally endanger British soldiers in a war whose origins seemed so clouded.