The come-back trail has led Tony Blair into the lion’s den of a Daily Telegraph interview. Except that the lion, as represented by Charles Moore, has lost its teeth and claws.
Even though he shares his name with Schiller’s robber, Mr Moore displayed none of the latter’s audacity in tossing interrogatory creampuffs at Tony. Then again, such docility may have been a precondition set by Blair. The other precondition must have been that he be allowed to talk in non-stop platitudes without being called to account. But then Tony has this way with words, rendering each one platitudinous, including ‘I do’, ‘people’s Princess’ and ‘I don’t cross the street for less than fifty grand’.
In the subsequent article Mr Moore describes Tony as ‘the nation’s most famous Catholic convert.’ Right. Charles II, Dryden, Newman, Chesterton, Waugh – and Tony. He’s the most famous of the lot. And a good Catholic he is too.
Jesus Christ is to him ‘a man who was prepared to challenge conventional wisdom when he thought it was wrong.’ He was also something else on top of that, but mentioning this wouldn’t be inclusive enough for the come-back kid who has ‘always been more interested in religion than politics’ because in religion ‘there is so much that is still unexplored’.
That’s true, or rather a truism. But religion also has quite a few things that have been not only explored but settled, such as that Christ wasn’t just a man ready ‘to challenge conventional wisdom’, contextually like Tony.
Tony accepts ‘the doctrine of the Catholic Church’, but he’s ‘not a doctrinal ideologue’. For example, he supports ‘gay marriage’ – can’t let Dave claim that one for himself. This is a bit like a Muslim supporting the happy hour at his local. Far from being ‘a doctrinal ideologue’, Tony makes up his own doctrine as he goes along.
Why then convert to a confession that still takes dogma seriously? Tony’s explanation ought to give all family men and persons a nice, warm feeling. Tony ‘didn’t really analyse a great deal.’ He converted because Cherie is a Catholic, and so Tony ‘just felt more at home’ at a Catholic church.
But Cherie was a Catholic throughout Tony’s tenure as PM. Why wait until its end? I hope you’ll forgive my incredulity bordering on cynicism, but the real explanation is surely less cosy and much more arithmetical.
When pursuing his political career in Britain, where there are more Anglicans than Catholics, Tony was an Anglican. When he thought he could become president of the EU (‘I would have taken the job if they had offered it to me, but they didn’t’), where there are more Catholics than Anglicans, he became a Catholic. Tony is constitutionally incapable of uttering a thought worthy of the name, but he can do sums. And he can sway from one confession to the other with the worst of them.
Now that he’s the Middle East envoy for the Big Four (or rather the Big One: Tony), he loves the Koran: ‘It stands in the great prophetic tradition of trying to return people to the basic principles of spirituality. Taken for its time, it was an extraordinarily progressive declaration of principle… there are more references to Mary than in the Gospels.’
That makes Islam in some respects more progressive and more Catholic than the Church of England, for which, however, Tony feels ‘no great revulsion, quite the opposite.’ The arithmetical wind returneth again according to his circuits. Tony wants to get back into domestic politics, so he loves the Anglicans, the Muslims and the Catholics with equal fervour.
But for the time being, Tony is devoted to his job of bringing peace to the Middle East. In this undertaking he is as successful as he was in bringing success to the British economy. Yet again it’s not his fault: ‘The West is asleep on this issue’, that is sectarian Islamist extremism, and Tony is the West’s wakeup call.
‘We must engage, but also challenge,’ suggests Tony with his usual decisiveness. The Middle East ‘won’t achieve democracy unless it understands that democracy is a way of thinking as well as voting.’ I would have said ‘The Middle East won’t achieve democracy’ and left it at that. But then Charles Moore isn’t going to interview me in any foreseeable future. Actually, I’m beginning to think that his placidity was the right way to interrogate Tony: no point trying to hang a man who can do the job himself every time he opens his mouth.
Take Tony’s firm stance, astride the fence, on the economy: ‘We’re not against wealth, but we are in favour of social responsibility.’ In that spirit, we shouldn’t ‘hang 20 bankers at the end of the street’. It’s wrong to think that ‘liberalisation, beginning under Mrs Thatcher… is what caused the financial crisis.’
But this isn’t at all what we think. The crisis was caused by Tony’s government with its recklessly self-serving overspending, all in the name of ‘social responsibility’. Then again, being in denial and on the come-back trail, he wouldn’t acknowledge this.
Tony Blair represents the dominant sociocultural type of modern times: the important nonentity. But, as Joseph de Maistre observed, every nation gets the government it deserves. We deserved Blair once, and I fear we may deserve him again. He can clearly smell it, and what a sweet smell it is. Beats incense any day.