Alex Danchev: 'Tony Blair's high-rolling authenticity project has come to grief'

From an inaugural lecture by the Professor of International Relations at the University of Nottingham

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Tony Blair marches on, but the sedulously promoted self-image is shot. Iraq has seen to that. Sexing-up skewered frank-seeming. "We look in vain for this man's convictions, beyond a negative version of Ecclesiastes with victory the prize for the strong," in Edward Pearce's blood-curdling exegesis. "Blair is about power shallowly perceived and public show shimmeringly done, right down to the dreadful sincerity."

Tony Blair marches on, but the sedulously promoted self-image is shot. Iraq has seen to that. Sexing-up skewered frank-seeming. "We look in vain for this man's convictions, beyond a negative version of Ecclesiastes with victory the prize for the strong," in Edward Pearce's blood-curdling exegesis. "Blair is about power shallowly perceived and public show shimmeringly done, right down to the dreadful sincerity."

He is re-elected, precisely, in spite of himself. The war and its degrading aftermath sealed a kind of transmigration. Blair flipped into Bliar. The watchword came in many forms. Everyone got the message. The Prime Minister was crooked timber - evasive, deceptive, manipulative. His much-vaunted integrity was interred without obsequies. Honest belief is undone. The damage is irreparable.

Honest belief is akin to good faith. Good faith is the spirit of the mind, which prefers sincerity to deception, knowledge to illusion, laughter to solemnity. Tony Blair fails these tests. "If he isn't decent, trust-me Tony," asked Salman Rushdie recently, "then who is he?"

Authenticity is an enigma. Good faith is often regarded as a working definition. Blair riffed on being authentic as he riffed on the guitar. But this high-rolling project, the authenticity project, has come to grief.

Does Blair turn to Sartre in the still small hours and recognise himself in that mirror? "It's true. I'm not authentic. With everything that I feel, before actually feeling it I know that I'm feeling it. And then, bound up as I am with defining and thinking it, I no longer more than half-feel it. My greatest passions are mere nervous impulses. The rest of the time I feel hurriedly, then elaborate in words, press a little here, force a little there, and lo and behold an exemplary feeling has been constructed, good enough to put in any bound volume."

Tony Blair does exemplary feeling. The bound volumes of Blair memoirs are still to come. One thing is certain: there will be apologetics galore. The authenticity project is already lost. The posterity project is in deep trouble.

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