Criticism of Tony Blair

Criticism of Tony Blair

Criticism of Tony Blair includes accusations of dishonesty, authoritarianism, and subservience in his relationship with U.S. President George W. Bush. Tony Blair has faced particularly severe condemnation for British involvement in the Iraq War, earning him the disparaging moniker of "Bush's Poodle."cite book|last=Ayto|first=John|coauthors=Ian Crofton|year=2007|title=Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable|page=124]

pin and alleged dishonesty

While the terms "spin" and "spin doctor" came into widespread use in politics in the 1980scite book|last=Beard|first=Adrian|year=2000|title=The Language of Politics|pages=29] they are especially prominent in criticism of the Blair government.cite book|last=Collins|first=Thomas M.|year=2005|title=Tony Blair|pages=80] A widely-levelled criticism of Blair and his subordinates is that they make use of spin to such an extent that government statements are now widely disbelieved even if they are entirely true. Critics also say the government crossed a line between presenting selected fragments of information that do not tell the whole story, and deliberate manipulation by providing information that has been assembled in a deliberate effort to be misleading.

The most widely publicised example of this latter alleged failing concerned the two dossiers of "intelligence" information on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction that were published in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War - the September Dossier and the later so-called "Dodgy Dossier". Controversy surrounded both the contents of these documents and the way in which their contents were presented. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq. [Maria Tomchick [ Weapons of Mass Destruction: Where's the Proof?] ] Blair's reputation for honesty and integrity, already damaged by allegations of excessive "spin", was dealt a major blow by the episode. His defenders argue that he sincerely believed before the war that the intelligence on Iraq's alleged WMDs was accurate; that such a belief was also held by the intelligence agencies of countries which opposed the war, such as France and Germany; and that the dossiers were not dishonest in their presentation of the intelligence evidence. The independent Butler Review subsequently found there was not enough evidence to uphold the assertion that Blair deliberately deceived the British public. The Butler review implied that the dossiers had contained some degree of exaggeration, and that Blair was aware of such exaggerations. Despite the Butler finding however, Blair continues to be condemned internationally as a proven liar. [Australian News [,10117,15121836-38200,00.html Tony Blair a 'serial liar' over the war in Iraq?] ]

Cash for honours scandal

Blair came under fire for reportedly selling peerages to wealthy businessmen in return for financial funding for the Labour Party. The Crown Prosecution Service stated on 20 July 2007 that, in their view, they were unable to find enough evidence to bring a successful prosecution against anyone. It is important to note that although Blair was pleased at the decision not to press charges [ ] , he and the labour party were not exonerated from acting illegally. The decision of the Crown Prosecution Service was made solely on the basis of a lack of evidence and an assessment of the liklihood of a conviction. Some of the police officers involved in the enquiry claim there was political pressure applied to them and that some of the politicians interviewed were less than helpful []


Blair consistently supported the police and sought to increase police powers. While this policy initially attracted widespread support, some regarded the government's legislative response to the threat of militant Islamism as authoritarian.Fact|date=February 2007

Terrorism Act 2000 tightened existing counter-terrorism legislation prior to the 11 September, 2001 attacks. [ [ BBC Editorial Guidelines - War, Terror - The Terrorism Act 2000] ] The Act also gave the police powers to act against a wide range of activities, and the legislation was reportedly used even against peaceful protestors. After 11 September, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was passed, allowing foreign nationals to be detained without charge for an indefinite period, subject to appeal to a special tribunal, if they were suspected international terrorists and refused to be deported to their home countries (where, in some cases, they may be tortured or executed). This provision was later declared by the House of Lords, acting as the UK's highest court, to be incompatible with the Human Rights Act, and the Government replaced it, in the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, with provisions for "control orders" allowing terrorist suspects to be placed under house arrest, subject to some judicial oversight. These control orders have subsequently been declared by the courts to be incompatible with the Human Rights Act; the Government is seeking to appeal again to the House of Lords.

In 2005 Blair gave personal strong backing to proposals to allow suspected terrorists to be held for questioning for up to 90 days, and dissuaded other Ministers from offering a compromise. This insistence resulted in his first defeat on the floor of the House of Commons in November 2005.

The flagship anti-crime policy introduced in Blair's first term, Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs), have been criticised as excessively punitive and as involving the criminalisation of non-criminal conduct: an ASBO may be imposed, using civil rather than criminal court procedures, to prevent conduct which is entirely legal, but breach of the ASBO itself is a criminal offence. Some apparently Draconian examples of ASBO restrictions have been cited: particular ASBOs have preventing their subjects from being sarcastic, from using the word "grass" (this example seems somewhat less ridiculous when it is considered that "grass" in British English is a taunt used against police informants), and from attending a drug clinic which was treating them for their addiction. Opinion polls, however, show that ASBOs remain popular with the public,Fact|date=July 2008 leading some to suggest that criticism of them comes mainly from middle-class people who do not regularly experience anti-social behaviour in their own communities.

The Identity Cards Act 2006 enabled the Government to introduce national identity cards, and authorised the creation of a National Identity Register on Britain's citizens. Critics of ID cards argue that the Register threatens privacy and civil liberties, and that they could be used to deny access to public services.cite web|title=ID cards|publisher=Lynne Featherstone|accessdate=September 8|accessyear=2006|url=]

The government maintained that ID cards are crucial in counter-terrorism and crime prevention. However the opinion of many senior staff including ex-cabinet ministers formerly involved with the study, is that these claims are exaggerated [ [ Minister admits ID card benefits were exaggerated - Times Online ] ]

Relationship with President George W. Bush

Along with enjoying a close relationship with U.S. President Bill Clinton during the latter's time in office, Blair formed a strong political alliance with President George W. Bush, particularly in the area of foreign policy. At one point Nelson Mandela described Blair as "the U.S. foreign minister." [BBC [ Mandela condemns US stance on Iraq] 30 January 2003] For his part, President Bush lauded Blair and the UK, saying in his post-September 11 speech that "America has no truer friend than Great Britain." [ [ President Declares "Freedom at War with Fear"] ] The alliance between Bush and Blair has seriously damaged Blair's standing in the eyes of many British people, particularly those on the traditional Left.Fact|date=February 2007

Blair's prompt appearance in Washington, D.C. after the 11 September 2001 attacks played a part in establishing mutual respect between the two leaders. Prior to the Iraq War Blair wished to obtain a second UN resolution following Security Council Resolution 1441 authorizing an invasion of Iraq, but ultimately supported the U.S.-led invasion after they failed to pass a resolution. Critics argue this support provided the fig-leaf of an international coalition as well as military support. Writing in 2005, the former UK ambassador to the US, Sir Christopher Meyer, accused Blair of being a hawk and of having been insufficiently cautious about the war. [Julian Glover and Ewen MacAskill [,12956,1635997,00.html Blair's litany of failures on Iraq - ambassador's damning verdict] "The Guardian" 9 November 2005] Meyer claimed Blair could have prevented the war if he had acted in the summer of 2002. Journalist Simon Jenkins criticised Meyer's claims as 'naive'. [Simon Jenkins [,,1637206,00.html Sorry, Sir Christopher, he wasn't even in with a shout] "The Guardian" 9 November 2005]

An article in the May 2004 issue of "Vanity Fair" reported Meyer's presence at a meeting between Blair and Bush a few days after the September 11 attacks. According to the article Bush asked Blair to support an attack on Iraq, but Blair said he would rather concentrate on ousting the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. Meyer says Bush replied, "I agree with you Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq." Meyer reports that Blair "said nothing to demur." Paul Wolfowitz says the article included partial and incorrect quotes.

In July 2003 the U.S. Congress awarded Blair the Congressional Gold Medal, making him the first Briton since Winston Churchill to receive the award, which is considered the United States' highest expression of appreciation. [ [ Search Results - THOMAS (Library of Congress)] ] The award aroused controversy in the UK. As of August 2005 Blair had yet to collect the medal [Daniel Finkelstein [,,21129-1757559,00.html The magnitude of the honour leaves no possible doubt: Tony Blair must go] ] though he had already formally accepted the award. [ [ Tony Blair: Address to Congress Accepting Congressional Gold Medal] ]

Blair's emphasis on Britain's "special relationship" with the U.S. is not unique. Close ties between the UK and the United States characterised British foreign policy since Churchill's government and the Roosevelt administration. As to Blair's influence over U.S. policy, it has been claimed that it was Blair who persuaded Bush to devote interest to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, endorse a two-state solution, and attempt to obtain a second UN resolution prior to the Iraq War.Fact|date=November 2007

Blair described the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp as an "anomaly" which should be resolved "sooner rather than later." When pressed in a 4 March 2006 interview with Michael Parkinson, [ [ Parkinson] ] Blair said he could work with George Bush because "he does what he says."

An open microphone accidentally picked up a private conversation between Blair and Bush at the 2006 G8 summit in St Petersburg. Transcripts of the conversation appeared to show, among other things, that Bush snubbed Blair's offer to visit the Middle East as a mediator in the latest conflict, sending U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice instead. [ [ 'Yo, Blair!': Overheard at the G8] (registration or subscription required)] [Philip Webster [,,3-2274273,00.html Bush's open mike gaffe reveals truth of the special relationship] 18 July 2006] Bush's greeting of "Yo, Blair" particularly irked the press in the UK. [Adrian Croft [ Yo Bush! Blair mocked as U.S. poodle] Reuters UK 18 July 2006]


Blair's style is sometimes said to resemble that of a president and head of state rather than that of a prime minister in a parliamentary system of government. [ [,3604,1004735,00.html President Blair | Guardian daily comment | Guardian Unlimited ] ] He is perceived by many as an excessively autocratic leader, paying insufficient attention to the views of his Cabinet and the House of Commons as a whole.Fact|date=November 2007

The "Sunday Times" complained in April 1998 that Blair had reached an "unparalleled apex of power" as "Britain [was] as close to having a presidential system as possible. However, while Andrew Rawnsley of "The Observer" came to the same conclusion, and warned ministers increasingly chose not challenge Blair in policy disputes, he believed there were distinct advantages of the Blair government's presidentialism, specifically success in stemming violence in Northern Ireland.cite book|last=Michael|first=Foley|year=2000|title=The British Presidency: Tony Blair and the Politics of Public Leadership By Michael Foley|pages=9]

By his own admission, Blair has never taken a vote on any issue among his Cabinet colleagues. His predecessors did not take formal votes in Cabinet either. The satirical magazine "Private Eye" alleged in July 2006 that, when the newly-appointed Defence Secretary Des Browne openly disagreed with Blair at his first Cabinet meeting, colleagues reacted with shock and passed him notes asking what he thought he was doing. As to his attitude towards Parliament, Blair has been criticised for his poor voting and attendance record in the House of Commons, and for his alleged general lack of respect for the legislature.

On the other hand, it is not clear that the electorate would prefer a less "presidential" prime minister: Blair's Conservative predecessor, John Major, was widely derided as being ineffectual. Blair's personal Parliamentary voting and attendance record may be explained, at least in part, by the heavy demands upon the time of any Prime Minister, and by the unusually large Labour majorities from 1997 to 2005 that meant in practice that his vote was rarely needed.

Middle East policy and links with Israel

One of Blair's first actions in joining the Labour Party was to join Labour Friends of Israel. In 1994, a friend and former colleague of Blair at 11 King's Bench Walk Chambers, Eldred Tabachnik, Q.C. (one time president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews) introduced Blair to Michael Levy, later Lord Levy, a pop music mogul and major fundraiser for Jewish and Israeli causes, at a dinner party hosted by the Israeli diplomat Gideon Meir.cite news | url=,,1734529,00.html?gusrc=rss | title=There was once a jolly bagman | author=Euan Ferguson | publisher=Guardian|date=March 19 2006] Blair and Levy soon became close friends and tennis partners. Levy ran the Labour Leader's Office Fund to finance Blair's campaign before the 1997 General Election and received substantial contributions from such figures as Alex Bernstein and Robert Gavron, both of whom were ennobled by Blair after he came to power. Levy was created a life peer by Blair in 1997, and in 2002, just prior to the Iraq War, Blair appointed Levy as his personal envoy to the Middle East. Levy has praised Blair for his "solid and committed support of the State of Israel" [ [ Jewish Care] , Fundraising Dinner 2006 ] and has been described himself as "a leading international Zionist". [cite web |url=,,2087-2092803,00.html |title=Lord Cashpoint's touch of money magic |date=2006-03-19 |last=Wavell |first=Stuart |publisher=The Sunday Times |accessdate = 2007-02-21] In 2004, Blair was heavily criticised by 50 former diplomats, including ambassadors to Baghdad and Tel Aviv for his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraq War. They stated they had "watched with deepening concern" at Britain following the U.S. into war in Iraq in 2003 also stating, "We feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that they will be addressed in parliament and will lead to a fundamental reassessment," and asked Blair to exert "real influence as a loyal ally". The ambassadors also accused the allies of having "no effective plan" for the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the apparent disregard for the lives of Iraqi civilians. The diplomats also criticised Blair for his support for the road map which included the retaining of settlements on the West Bank stating, "Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land". [ [,11538,1203898,00.html Diplomats attack Blair's Israel policy] , Guardian Unlimited, Matthew Tempest, April 26, 2004]

In 2006, Blair was heavily criticised for his failure to call for a ceasefire in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, with members of his cabinet openly criticising Israel. Jack Straw, the Leader of the House of Commons and former Foreign Secretary stated that Israel's actions risked destabilising all of Lebanon. Kim Howells, a minister in the Foreign Office, stated that it was "very difficult to understand the kind of military tactics used by Israel", "These are not surgical strikes but have instead caused death and misery amongst innocent civilians.". The Observer newspaper claimed that at a cabinet meeting before Blair left for a summit with President George Bush on 28 July 2006, a significant number of ministers pressured Blair to publicly criticise Israel over the scale of deaths and destruction in Lebanon. [ [,,1833538,00.html Cabinet in open revolt over Blair's Israel policy] , "The Observer", 30 July 2006]

On 1 August 2008, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad issued a statement calling Blair a war criminal for his role in initiating the war in Iraq. Mahathir said, "I am disgusted that Tony Blair has been invited to Malaysia. This man, to me, is a war criminal. Through instigating the war in Iraq, he has killed more than (former Bosnian Serb leader) Radovan Karadzic and (former Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein." [] . By June 2008, the number of people killed as a consequence of the invasion of Iraq was estimated to be more than 1.2 million. [ Iraq Death Toll 'Above Highest Estimates']

His departure

Blair's apparent refusal to set a date for his departure has been criticised by the British press and members of parliament. It has been reported that a number of cabinet ministers believed that Blair's timely departure from office would be required to be able to win a fourth election.cite news|title='Deluded': Extraordinary attack on Blair by Cabinet |date=2006-09-04 |publisher=The Independent|url=] Some ministers viewed Blair's announcement of policy initiatives in September 2006 as an attempt to draw attention away from these issues.

Upon his return from his holiday in the West Indies he announced that all the speculation about his leaving must stop. This stirred not only his traditional critics but also traditional party loyalists.

A letter demanding he should resign 'sooner rather than later' was circulated and on 6 September a rash of resignations of Parliamentary Private Secretaries increased the pressure on Blair to resign now or name a timetable for a handover.

"The Sun" newspaper predicted on its front page that Blair would stand down on 31 May 2007, but Number 10 insisted it did not leak the date to the newspaper and that it would not give a "running commentary on dates". However, political pressure widely acknowledged as being wielded on behalf of Chancellor Gordon Brown quickly forced Blair into publicly accepting for the first time that the upcoming TUC and Labour Party conferences of 2006 would be his last as Prime Minister. Although in theory this would give Blair until September 2021 to resign as Prime Minister, the consensus of seasoned commentators was that The Sun's prediction represented the latest date until which Blair could realistically hang on.

Blair would have quit if cautioned in the "cash for honours"-corruption probe "The Sunday Telegraph" reported on March 25 2007. The investigation concentrated on allegations that political parties, mainly Blair's governing Labour Party, offered seats in parliament's unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, in return for financial assistance. [ [ Blair would have quit if cautioned in corruption probe ] ]

Criticism by the left

While the Blair government has introduced some social policies seen by the left of the Labour Party as progressive, such as the minimum wage and measures to reduce child poverty, Blair is seen, on economic and management issues, as being to the right of the bulk of the party. A possible comparison may be made with Al Gore, Joe Lieberman and other American Democrats, who have been accused by their party's "base" of selling out to conservative ideology. Some critics describe Blair as a reconstructed Conservative or Thatcherite. He is occasionally described as "Son of Thatcher", though Lady Thatcher herself rejected this identification in an interview with ITV1 on the night of the 2005 election, claiming that the resemblances were superficial.

Many of Blair's policies have been criticised by MPs on the left and/or the centre of the Labour Party. One example is the use of private capital to fund public projects (under the Private Finance Initiative, for example). This, it is claimed, both represents a bad deal for taxpayers and involves the privatisation of public service. [BBC [ Q&A: What is PFI?] 30 September 2002] Another policy which has attracted criticism is the introduction of independent Trust Schools, [BBC (Mike Baker) [ Forward to the past for schools?] 27 October 2005] which have been likened to the Major government's Grant Maintained Schools, which Labour criticised while in opposition. This comparison was rejected by the Government, but the passage of the relevant Education Bill through Parliament has been dogged by controversy: it passed its second reading in the House of Commons only with the aid of Conservative votes.

Glenn Hoddle affair

England team football coach Glenn Hoddle was sacked in February 1999 after he appeared in an interview with The Times newspaper where he suggested that disabled people were being punished for sins in a previous life. There followed an uproar, which included criticism by Blair. In a television interview Blair called for Hoddle to go, saying the comments were "very wrong" and that it "would be very difficult for him (Hoddle) to stay." Blair was later criticised in the "Daily Telegraph" and the Italian newspaper "La Stampa" as well as by former FA Chairman Bert Millichip, former Prime Minister John Major and then Leader of the Opposition William Hague for interfering in an affair which did not concern him and calling for Hoddle's dismissal, which was thought by some to show opposition to free speech and religious tolerance. [ [ CNN/SI - World Soccer - Blair adds voice to wave of criticism engulfing Hoddle - Monday February 01, 1999 12:31 PM ] ] [ [ BBC News | UK | Zara's support brings Hoddle to tears ] ] [ [ BBC News | Europe | World press dumbfounded ] ] [ [ BBC News | Football | Hoddle 'hounded out' ] ] [ [ BBC News | UK Politics | Hoddle becomes political football ] ] [ [ BBC News | UK Politics | Hoddle row erupts in Commons ] ] The "Daily Mail" criticised Blair for interfering to try to gain popularity. [ [ Bandwagon Blair pitches in again | the Daily Mail ] ]


Blair has avoided the traditional pigeonholes of British political leaders. He has often, particularly after the invasion of Iraq, been labelled as insincere ("King of Spin", "Phoney Tony"), and has been accused of cronyism due to his perceived penchant for promoting his friends to top jobs. In his early years, Blair was often criticised as an unscrupulous opportunist who was solely interested in doing anything that would get him elected, that he was a focus group politician. More recently, his unpopular support of the United States over Iraq has demonstrated a politician with more commitment to his own beliefs, despite public opposition. His name has been deliberately mis-spelt 'Tony Bliar' (sometimes 'B. Liar') or 'Tory Blur' by critics of his actions and his policies (particularly his stance on Iraq). "The Economist" on 5 June 2003 devoted its front cover to a photograph of Blair and the headline, "Bliar?."

Since Blair became Prime Minister "Private Eye" has run a regular feature called the St Albion Parish News based on the Blair government. In this series the parish incumbent ('Rev. A.R.P. Blair MA (Oxon)') combines a relentless trendiness with a tendency to moralise and to exclude all those who criticise him. The series highlights Blair's perceived penchant for spin and his zealous enthusiasm in relation to recent political events.

In his first term of office Blair was the subject of a satirical comic strip "Dan Blair" in "The Times". This strip spoofed the comic book hero Dan Dare and his nemesis, the Mekon, who represented William Hague in the strip, portrayed with a very large forehead. He has also been parodied in the comic 2000 AD in the series B.L.A.I.R. 1 (a spoof of the old-fashioned strip M.A.C.H.1 written by David Bishop) where he acts as a futuristic crime fighter controlled by an artificial intelligence known as "Doctor Spin."

In opposition under John Smith, the Central Television satirical puppet show "Spitting Image" depicted Blair within the Shadow Cabinet as a schoolboy with a high-pitched voice and bottle-green uniform, complete with cap. The first show after Smith's death featured Blair singing "I'm going to be the leader! I'm going to be the leader!" over and over. Once settled in as leader, the programme, which was in its last years, changed its caricature of Blair to have a small face with an outsized toothy grin. The show ended before Labour gained power although it successfully predicted their win during the segment of the last episode entitled The Last Prophecies of Spitting Image.

The British pop band The Pet Shop Boys released a single in May 2006 called "I'm with Stupid," which criticises the relationship between Blair and George W. Bush.

In an "Any Questions?" debate on Radio 4 broadcast from Altrincham on September 29 2006, the writer and commentator Will Self, answering a question on whether Tony Blair should leave office, said:

"I view him as the kind of air guitarist of political rhetoric. I don't think he's debased political debate because he lies, I actually sadly think he believes a lot of what he says, that's what's so depressing about it, for people who stand outside of politics. So my rather bizarre viewpoint - should he go? - it feels like he left a long time ago, leaving this Tony Blair shaped hole that carries on talking." [ [ BBC - Radio 4 - Transcripts ] ]

The audience applauded Self's comments.


The Scottish Parliament criticised Blair for his refusal to congratulate the Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond upon his election as First Minister of Scotland. [ [ The Scottish Parliament - Official Report ] ]


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