A Manifestation of Evil or Just Plain Madness?

Who said the following: When you’re the leader “you need, um, to be able to separate yourself (pause) somewhat from the magnitude of the consequences of the decisions you are taking?”?

Was it Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Menachem Begin, Pol Pot or possibly George “Dubya” Bush?

Answer, none of the above.

Just occasionally terrestrial television comes up with a documentary that provides real and (to my way of thinking) terrifying insight into the mindest of leaders. One such documentary, actually a series of three, The Blair Years, has just ended on BBC Television.

The third and last programme, which like all three was constructed on an in-depth conversation between the former prime minister and Sunday Timescolumnist David (am I really a Zionist?) Aaronovitch, was titled Blair In Power.

Throughout the programme, as in power, Blair insisted that he did what he did because he truly and totally believed it was “the right thing to do.” That, said Sir Ming Campbell, the former Liberal Democratic Party leader, was “a very frustrating phrase”. Why? “Because if I say to you (David Aaronovitch) that it’s ‘the right thing to do,’ there’s no forensic skill you can exercise that can disturb that. It’s a phrase of last resort, impervious to argument.”

In discourse analysis it’s known as the false dilemma. You can’t argue with somebody, particularly a leader, who insists that he was doing what was right because, implicity, you invite yourself to be seen as arguing for what is morally wrong. And that’s why conviction politicians are so successful and can can get away with murder. Literally. (It’s analogous to the assertion that “God promised us the land.” The only sane response to that, if ones dares, is “You’re mad.”)

After a line of commentary that said, “He had become a devisive and unpopular prime minister,” Blair said: “The very moment when I was becoming less popular and less publicly acceptable was when I felt a greater confidence.” Translated that could only mean, “The more people told me I was wrong, the more believed I was right.” (When I discussed this with a former senior BBC producer and friend, he said: “I’m different from Blair. When people tell me I’m deep in shit, I look down and see how I can get out of it!”)

Charles Clarke, a minister in one of the cabinets Blair treated with almost the same contempt he subsequently developed for public opinion, described his former leader as “almost a messianic politician in the way he saw himself.”

Eventually Blair did talk about his religious faith, but he was most uncomfortable doing so; and he explained why. “If you talk about religious faith in our political system, people think you’re a nutter. They might think you go off to sit in a corner and commune with, um, the man upstairs and say ‘right, I’ve been told what the answer is, and that’s it!’” (One obvious implication was that if Blair had been an American, he would have said, Bush-like, “God told me to do it.”)

Commentary: “Blair says it was his religious faith that helped him to live with the consequences of his decisions.”

Blair: “To to this, this, the prime minister’s job properly, you need, um, you need to be able to separate yourself (pause) somewhat from the magnitude of the consequences of the decisions you are taking the whole time, which doesn’t mean to say, and let me emphasise this, that you’re insensitive to the magnitude of those consequences or that you don’t feel them deeply. If you don’t have that strength, it’s difficult to do the job, which is why this job is as much about character and temperament as it is about anything else. For me having faith was an important part of being able to do that; but it’s not, you know I’ve said probably more than I intended to say about it, but it’s just, you know, in the end that’s, that’s, I mean, and I think that that is also important because ultimately you’ve got to do what you think is right in this job and I learned that over time really.” (There were moments, this I thought was one of them, when Blair was nearly as incoherent as “Dubya” can be).

During the course of the last programme in the series we learned that the prime minister who read from the bible and prayed every night also swore, didn’t always delete the expletives. (No harm in that in my view). I menti

on this in passing because of what I want to say, write, next.

The end of the last programme provided a moment, actually moments, of television magic.

Aaronovitch’s last words were, “Tony Blair, thank you.”

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