Let us now praise famous men. This line from Ecclesiasticus 44:1 today finds human form in one Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. Last week the former prime minister was presented with something called the Global Legacy Award by the Save the Children charity at their 2nd Annual Illumination Gala in New York.
Blair was praised for “his work in leading G8 nations at Gleneagles in 2005 to pledge to double aid to Africa and provide 100 per cent debt relief to eligible countries, as well as his work in partnership with African governments through the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI)”.
We know this because that’s how it was described on the Office of Tony Blair website.
Speaking at the gala, Blair was happy to resort to humble brag in accepting the gong:
“From the beginning of humankind there has been brutality, conflict, intrigue, the destructive obsession with a narrow self-interest.
“But throughout all human history, never has been extinguished that relentless, unquenchable desire to do good. To act not only in self-interest and sometimes to even to act in defiance of it.
“So this engine of progress, yes, it can be broken temporarily.
“Yes, it can be marginalised in this crisis or that moment of time.
“But somehow, what’s amazing, is that it always starts up again, it pushes forward, and it somehow finds those willing to jump in to the seat and drive it.”
Sorry Tony. What is amazing is that somebody as widely loathed as you are in this country for the arch cynicism of your “Third Way” politics in general and the disastrous consequences of the 2003 Iraq invasion in particular can gather awards so easily.
Dewy-eyed praise does little to comfort the recipients of that “relentless, unquenchable desire for good” in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s not just the usual suspects who find the kudos creepy.
The Guardian newspaper reported that 200 staff at the charity signed a letter calling the honour “morally reprehensible.” A petition has gathered more than 90,000 signatures calling for it to be revoked.
Blair has form here. Lots of it.
In September, GQ magazine gave him its “philanthropist of the year” award. That attracted criticism with MPs from all sides lining up to deliver their damning verdict.
Look back even further in time and you’ll find more of the same.
The Blair mantlepiece, in whichever home he happens to be living in at the time, is well stocked with humanitarian awards, some of which you might even recognise.
In 2003 he joined Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, T.D., Prime Minister of Ireland in accepting The Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights. This is awarded biennially by the University of Connecticut to “an individual or group who has made a significant effort to advance the cause of international justice and global human rights.”
In 2008, Blair received an honorary law doctorate from Queen’s University Belfast for distinction in public service and roles in the Northern Ireland peace process
On 13 January 2009, Blair was handed the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush who declared it was earned “in recognition of exemplary achievement and to convey the utmost esteem of the American people”
The very next month the Dan David Prize came Blair’s way via Tel Aviv University. It is awarded for “exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict”.
On 13 September 2010, Blair was awarded the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was presented by ex-US President Bill Clinton.
Let’s not forget that on the very day he left Number 10, Blair was appointed to the Quartet on the Middle East. No, he wasn’t fronting a musical combo.
He became a peace envoy and member of an endless talk shop that first convened on May 2, 2002 and has had precious little Middle East peace to show for its efforts – either before Mr Blair joined or since.
If all that sounds a touch negative, a bit snarky even, we can say this with absolute certainty.
Tony Blair served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007 and brought the country together like few politicians before or since.
Really, he did.
At the end of his term he drew ire in equal measure from all sides of Westminster and in public managed to alienate those on the left, centre and right without distinction.
Even those with no particular interest in politics seemed to take an instant dislike to Tony Blair.
Maybe they thought it would save time.
Somehow all that counts for nothing on the world stage. The awards and plaudits, praise and acclamation, all flow in an endless stream.
Once former prime ministers were content to reach for their pipe and slippers on retirement from public life. Today they are pursued up hill and down by groups wanting to pat them on the back.
Perhaps it might be better to let history be the judge.