Why we love Tony Blair


KPN readers may be puzzled that Prime Minister Tony Blair has so far been given such an easy ride.  Justification is one thing (there can be no justification for savage random attacks on innocent civilians, and Blair has cunningly used this fact to escape criticism), and motivation is another (the motivation provided by the illegal war in Iraq has transformed London from a jubilant Olympic city to a prime target for terrorist attack).  But the explanation for Blair’s ability to escape criticism goes deeper.


To help explain our love affair with Tony Blair we must go back in time a little, to the days when we left the forest to live on the savannah.  The open plain was a more dangerous place, where fierce predators roamed.  We were not equipped to match the speed, the fangs, the strength of powerful carnivores:  singly, we would not have survived for long.  We had relatively large brains, but they weren’t much protection of themselves – you can’t reason with a hungry lion.  We survived, we flourished, so well indeed that today the largest predators depend on our goodwill, because we are at heart pack animals.

Back in those days, one imagines the leader was the best physical specimen, a focus for group effort in hunting expeditions, and for the defence of the little clan.  Just as is the case in predatory species today, the alpha male would have given the orders, and obedience to the leader had considerable survival value.


Today we retain those tribal characteristics.  Our need for a leader, once necessary for survival, has today become a dangerous liability.  The situation has changed dramatically.  Today’s leaders are in charge of a pack that may run into hundreds of millions of individuals.  Today’s leaders are no supreme physical specimens: the emphasis is on cunning and, above all, charisma.


To mitigate the absolute rule of tyrants, democracy came along.  Democracy that lived up to its name (demos, the people, and kratos, strength, i.e., people power) spread the power required to run the government to temporary representatives elected by the people.  At first, the new system worked well, but gradually our fatal need for Fuhrers reasserted itself.  In our heads we are nearly all professed democrats  - a system that spreads power and is based on individual human rights and freedom has a strong appeal to decency.  But in our hearts we long for surrogate gods.


Look at the way the leader is chosen in ‘the land of the free’.  Look at the hype, the half-billion dollars spent on the US presidential campaign, look at the smiling, televisable, baby-kissing, omniscient, plausible, folksy characteristics insisted upon.  Remember the television debates, in which the two contestants go head to head, with endless media dissection afterwards as to who had scowled, who was most appealing, who knew without hesitation all the answers to the complex questions of security that have been the subject for endless debate for centuries, who had ‘won’.  Look, above all, at the unquestioned supposition that we need a pack leader with huge individual powers, when we already have our elected representatives to carry on the business of government.


Democracy, it was once imagined, would be proof against tyrants and a guarantee of decency in foreign policy - a focus on freedom and human rights at home could not justly translate into oppression and war abroad.  Well, it turned out that that democracy was no guarantee of benevolence, no bastion of freedom, no beacon of hope to the peoples of the world.  KPN readers will know something of the writings of Noam Chomsky and others.  Most recently, there has been the illegal, pre-emptive war against Iraq, waged by ‘coalition of the willing’ democracies.


Where has democracy failed the people of Iraq?  Not in theory, but in practice.  Our elected representatives were by-passed (it’s a long story well-known to readers) and leaders were able to take matters into their own hands.  Because we allowed them to.  Because we insisted on placing ordinary humans on a pedestal whence they could do immense harm.  Because we love leaders more than we love democracy.


The general reaction to the terrorist strikes in London demonstrated this possibly fatal flaw.  Polls showed that the majority of us make the link between the Iraq war and the terrorist atrocity.  Most of us, including MI5, the police, the Chatham House think tank, etc., consider that the attack would not have occurred without the motivation provided by the war.  Furthermore, we think that Britain’s involvement in the war was due to the personal urging of the prime minister (indeed, there can be no doubt left about this).  Yet – amazing fact – Tony Blair is, at present, as popular as ever!  His calm demeanour, his handling of the terrorist crisis, has been praised from all sides.  Even political opponents have spoken of his calm, ‘statesmanlike’ handling of the situation.


A better example of how we prefer charisma over wisdom in our leaders could hardly be found, or even imagined.

H. D.