George Orwell, in a celebrated if brutal remark, said that at fifty everybody has the face he deserves. Luckily for him, Orwell didn’t have to specify what one would need to have done to deserve the face Tony Blair has on his Christmas card this year.
As a schoolteacher in the 1980s I took my politics class to sit in the Strangers’ Gallery of the House of Commons. More or less horizontal on the shadow front bench, his feet propped on the Speaker’s table, lounged the recently elected member for Sedgefield, aged 31 and acting already as if he owned the gaff. I thought he was an arse then. It would probably be over-egging it to say that he’s come round to this point of view. But on the Xmas card, Blair wears the look of a man wracked by other people’s conscience. His wife, in scarlet, manages to coax her features into a simper while cosying to his manly pecs.
As tweeters have pointed out, you wonder how bad the other snaps must have been; a selfie on the can could hardly have come out worse. More charitably, maybe the girning is fully intended, and the card lets out a cry for help, from a lone soul puzzled and hurt that others’ regard for him pales beside his own. Who, anyway, emits a Christmas card with their own mugshot on it, instead of the usual bediapered Messiah or Magi-sponsored baby shower? Public figures indulge in this auto-iconostasis in the hope that the mantelpieces of friends and hangers-on wallow in the glory they reflect. But Blair’s actually signed up to the faith, and its industrial-strength Roman version at that. So you might expect Jesus to get a look in. But nary a crib or a camel – just the anointed one and his better half.
Indeed, those cast as messiah often elbow their predecessor out of the picture. Blair’s never been one to shrink from hiding his bushel under a light, be its glow never so feeble nor the tub so hollow. He’s the Rt Hon. Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, Fettes and Oxford, privy counsellor and former First Lord of the Treasury, and that bespeaks entitlement, not just for himself but the fruits of his groin. A journalist once remarked that Harold Wilson’s sons had become a head teacher and a professor of education (in fact, a distinguished mathematician). ‘Well, I certainly hope my children do better than that,’ Blair retorted.
A more admirable as well as attainable ambition might be: not to emulate their father. Eleven years ago he declared himself ‘ready to meet my maker and answer for those who have died as a result of my decisions,’even as the scale of the Iraq cock-up was becoming clear. In his post-premiership afterlife, Blair’s been in training for the supernal reward scheme that elects those who rack up enough moral air miles, a discipline that calls for a carbon footprint the size of Valhalla. He’s still in the transit lounge – not with Wendy Deng – having egged on the West to more high-explosive sprees, while finding time for some for-cash despot-stroking, notably of Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev. No doubt he sees that as part of his mission civilisatrice. Despite the bombfests, the own-name foundation and all the lecturing and consultancy loot, there’s been tragedy too: his pleas to blitz Damascus went unheeded, and he was unaccountably passed over for the EU presidency. But Tony struldbrugs on, chalking up those air miles, inter alia as Middle East peace envoy – a handle Orwell would have relished.