During the festive heyday of the antiwar movement, I stood with a noisy Stop the War contingent in a wanly sunlit south London street, with a Tony Blair mask on. For some reason, the mere appearance of this grinning visage angered people. More than one person came close to smashing my/his face in. If you hadn't been there, it would be hard to convey how visceral the popular hatred of Blair was. But don't take my word for it. Look at him. Look at that face. Stare into those eyes, and see if you don't end up smashing something.
There was always, though, a minority - usually well-placed, well-heeled, and well-connected - that was doggedly loyal to Blair, and sought to shield him against the views of the ignorant public. I imagine they were hugging themselves with glee when Blair was named 'philanthropist of the year' by GQ.
Now, the editor of GQ, Dylan Jones, is a metro-conservative who writes for the Daily Mail, and is responsible for the appearance of a book called 'Cameron on Cameron', in which the author fawns, simpers and throws softball questions. In writing about Cameron, he described
him as "strong" "steely" and "a lot tougher" than people think, in addition to being - what else? - "a doting husband and father". He was also, it should be said, down with the New Labour project back in its glory days of Britpop and Peter Mandelson and domes. (You remember all this, right?) So, there is absolutely nothing incongruous about GQ giving an award to Tony Blair for his philanthropic work in its 'man of the year' awards, or about the website hosting a glowing tribute to Blair
in connection with this. It is expected, and will be as long as the levers of cultural power are held by tedious sycophants - and, which is almost a tautology, as long as we have 'man of the year' awards.
Nonetheless, the reaction of the twitterati
, its collective jaw-drop, is impressive. That Blair is a war criminal has remained embedded deep in the popular common sense. That he did not scruple to defend Mubarak at the height of the Egyptian revolution, or that he was cheered when the young democracy was drowned in blood, is less well-known but it's on the record. Likewise, the recent discovery that he made some of his wedge by smoothing over the murder of 14 protesters by the Kazakhstan dictatorship
would seem to any civilised person to taint him permanently. Finally, those who followed Pillar of Defence closely will know that Blair, far from being negligent in the battle as some accused him of being, intervened early on to produce the fraudulent 'ceasefire deal' whose failure was used by Israel to legitimise its ground invasion. So he isn't just a perfect scumbag, but is still deeply imbricated in the administration of imperialist violence.
GQ's defence of the award is of the order of "he does a lotta good work for charidee, mate". (Though even they would blush to add that he doesn't like to talk about it.) They cite his faith foundation, and above all his Africa governance initiative. Assume for the sake of argument that their eulogy is entirely and rigorously accurate as to the details of Blair's foundation activities, and that there is no murkiness to be discovered in his activities. What is the point here? Are we supposed to fall onto our knees every time someone with wealth and power uses some of that accumulated lolly to advance their own political and moral goals? This is a prerogative of power, an aspect of wielding power and being productive in the world. This is true as much for Bill Gates today as it was for Andrew Carnegie back in the day. And Blair's foundations in particular are a manifestation of soft power - the velvet glove - entirely coherent and consistent extensions of the doctrines he implemented as Prime Minister and continues to pursue as a global power-broker. The money he deploys and administers comes from the US Treasury or from friendly oligarchs.
It isn't, therefore, that Blair is a bad example of philanthropy and didn't deserve the award. The problem is that he's a perfect example of philanthropy in action, and is fully entitled to this piece of shit award, and that we should stop revering philanthropy.