Johann Hari: Gay rights is the one conspicuous success of a flawed man

Related Topics

Tony Blair's decade in power is seared with disappointments – but there is one cool, consistent success story that ran through his time in power: the rapid advance of gay rights. If we had known in 1997 we would achieve full legal equality – even including de facto marriage – so fast and with so little fuss, we would have been startled.

When I interviewed Blair about gay rights last month to mark the 15th anniversary of Attitude magazine, I glimpsed his very best side – and the strange, gaping blind spots that did so much harm to his record, and the world.

Leaning forward, Blair offers a passionate defence of the equality of gay people. He talks about how, from his school days, he had friends who were terrified to come out and how the homophobia of the Conservatives represented "everything I wanted to change" about Britain.

He talks about how political correctness is used by "reactionary forces" as "a cover by people arguing against basic equality. Equality isn't political correctness, it's just justice." He says with a smile that delivering on it was one of his "proudest achievements".

And he transfers this success into an almost Messianic optimism about the future. As probably the most high-profile pro-gay religious person in the world, he says he is "optimistic" that all religions – including Islam – can go through "a process of Reformation" that will end with them accepting openly gay people. It is part of the "mission" of his Faith Foundation to move religion away from anti-gay literalism.

He doesn't hide his disagreement with the anti-gay bile of the leader of his own faith, the Pope. He says "there is a huge generational difference here" and that "if you went and asked the [ordinary Catholic] congregation, I think you'd find that their faith is not to be found in those types of entrenched attitudes." The fight for gay equality was a rare occasion when Blair took on the Right. I ask him if he wishes he had done it more, and he looks thoughtful. "It depends on the issue. But yes."

And yet, and yet... I soon crash into the blind spot that sent his premiership spinning to an early death. I ask him if he ever discussed his pro-gay views with George Bush. "No, I can't say I did. I mean, here's an interesting thing. I honestly haven't the faintest idea of how he voted on any of these things, but I'd be quite surprised if he personally were prejudiced." It's a bizarre answer. Of course he knows what George Bush did to oppose gay equality – he reads the newspapers. Why not just say that he disagrees? Why lie (and add the word "honestly" as you do it)? Why actually defend a man whose views on gay people are so obnoxious, and so opposite to his own?

Wrapped into this little interview was the paradox – and the tragedy – of Tony Blair. When he chose to fight on liberal issues, he was passionate, and brilliant. But he did it only a few times – and he willingly suspended these, his most impressive and admirable instincts, to embark on a bloody barn dance with the worst president in living memory. Why?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: union bosses mobilise to try to prevent a Labour government

John Rentoul
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine