THE BLOG

Tony and Bill: A Manichean Special Relationship

26/04/2013 13:39 BST | Updated 25/06/2013 10:12 BST
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Tony Blair's back, whether we like it or not. Back from the depths of obscurity he is again a prominent feature in the British press. He's been 'advising' labour leader Ed Miliband and basking in the guilt-ridden admiration the British public have for him. A world figure undoubtedly, a wicked self-publicist and negotiator too; however he will never be worshipped like his angel-faced, wispy haired counterpart Bill Clinton, the world's favourite celebrity statesman. Whilst Blair won three elections and can be credited with saving of the calamitous Labour Party and therefore the British political system from the tight ironclad grip of Thatcher, he is detested by many but tolerated generally. No flag draped gun carriage will carry him from St. Paul's.

The two men have many similarities. They were both young leaders defeating incumbent successors of severely conservative titans. Both enjoyed unprecedented support and were superb orators, presiding over currently craved economic growth. But most importantly both premierships were dogged by scandal. So why are they perceived so differently now?

Firstly and most obviously, their respective scandals provoke remarkably different responses. The Lewinsky scandal is spoken of more in a tone of jest than regret. Rarely do you hear anyone condemn his irresponsible affair; instead you hear a guffaw followed by a 'Bill, the old dog!' This view is outrageously misogynistic. Despite his pleas otherwise, Bill surely knew exactly what he was 'not having sexual relations with that woman', and that it was wrong. His scandal unfortunately is seen as embarrassing but evidently forgettable.

Conversely Blair it is generally believed, thought the invasion of Iraq was the 'right' thing to do. His reasoning for war was of course completely unfounded and this mortal error destroyed his credibility, perceived neutrality and ultimately his legitimacy. He polluted his image irrevocably. He now travels accompanied by a travelling protest, permanently and hellishly flogging him for his misdeeds. I make no claim about which act is most morally reprehensible, but undeniably the public perception of these scandals has inequitably shaped the more general perceptions of the leaders themselves.

The constitutional term limit on Clinton has also helped him. Whilst the American public can expect never to see Bill's name on a presidential ballot again, the threat of Blair's return is one that now lingers faintly but frighteningly. From what I've written so far you may expect hypothetically that without the term limit, Bill could fall back into the Presidency like a crowd surfing Arkansan faith healer; but the reality would likely be different. Although Republicans now give superficial nauseating lip service to Bill for his coattails, they have despised him since the hypocritical Clinton-Gingrich War of Impeachment with a fervent passion unseen until Obama's election. Yet they don't oppose him because Bill cannot return; open hatred is not required to keep him at bay.

However Blair's resurrection is unsettling. Polly Toynbee cleverly described him as a loose racehorse at the Grand National. He's long been undercover, implementing his Machiavellian 'ends justifies means' philosophy negotiating for dictators and corporations to fund his charities. He now subtly and ingeniously snakes his way into the press, planting provocative seeds of thought into the national psyche, questioning post-Blair life. He craves office; but whatever his aims, his presence cannot help but evoke a faint shiver to the spine. Unlike achy-breaky Bill, there's now the distant possibility conniving Tony will be back for real. Ironically though, Bill due to his extremely significant other is more likely to be back inside the White House than Tony behind the black door.

Finally a more personable factor, which cannot be underestimated: persona and aesthetics matter. Just as Ed Miliband's adenoids and Aardman animated face have limited his public credibility more than any of his policies, the satirical imagery around Clinton and Blair greatly mould public opinion of them. Bill's chubby saxophone playing cheeks and soft yokel accent portray a Gump-like aura of trust and kindness. Thus he appeared infinitely less aloof and more personable in his TV debates against George 'not-dubya' Bush. Meanwhile Tony's decaying, pointy face, greying eyes and crooked teeth evoke the image of a wise yet satanical bird of prey, an ideal Narnia villain.

So as Bill bounces goofily round the globe, adored at every corner, Tony provokes and irritates whilst bewildering us with an effortless master class in realpolitik, something that I miss in British politics. Tony, as shown in Harry Enfield's cutting portrayal of him as an intern is useless without a serious role, something Bill is adept at. But Tony is a restless ghoul. He wants a role and adoration and many believe he has much to offer, but with connotations of the Iraq War tattooed to his name he will never reach the lofty, heavenly and comfortable heights of Bill Clinton.