What makes our flawed leader tick?

Biblical references sanctify his utterings, but in Blair's case, faith is becoming a degraded accomplice
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The Independent Online

Here we go again. Our very own Cardinal Richelieu, Peter Mandelson, has surfaced to settle yet another fray between the Blairites and Brownites. Last week a surly and impatient Gordon Brown accused Blairites of an "orchestrated campaign" to undermine him. Mandelson arrived with soothing balm. In a television interview with Alastair Campbell he anointed Gordon Brown as the "natural successor" to Tony Blair.

What arrogance. This is still a working democracy where WE will decide on the next prime minister. After the recent humiliating election results, savvy New Labourites should know better than to presume our goodwill or idiocy. And am I the only person in this nation who is bored witless by this Blair/Brown saga?

For years political insiders have stupefied us with minutiae about this interminable power struggle. Whispering campaigns, spinning and media gossip keep alive the rumours and whilst they claim to resent the endless speculation, the protagonists play to the hungry gallery. Too many books have been written and remaindered on this apparently tumultuous relationship and the printed pages on the subject would cover 10 football pitches at least. Was Gordon on his fifth forkful in that restaurant in Islington when he agreed to that famous deal which made way for Tony to be PM first and Brown not too unbearably long after? How close were they sitting? Did they move away from each other and rest their elbows right back on their chairs at a particularly abrasive point?

Can't answer the questions; so not interested. It is of no importance at all in the volatile state we are in. If Gordon does become PM it is his similarity to Blair which we must worry about, not their tedious quarrels. He has not made a thumping speech justifying the Iraq war, but Brown has been complicit in the whole discreditable adventure. He is as obsessively pro-American as Blair and cavorts happily with the wealthy business class.

Blair is not going anywhere in any case; he is here to stay for a while. Although not a betting person, I would put money on it. Our nation's future is, for now, tightly in the hands of the tenacious and deeply flawed Tony Blair and we must know him better than we do.

Where is our Michael Moore? I don't care for his cheap jibes and outrageous assertions, but we sorely need someone to emulate his sharp research and devastating exposés of George Bush. Almost all our investigative political journalism is now under-active, reactive or trivial and makes no impact on the grand narratives of history as it is happening. Rory Bremner and Mark Thomas carry out more investigation into the powerful than do journalists. The convulsions and retributions which have followed the Andrew Gilligan report and the fake pictures in the Daily Mirror have created an ever-more fearful climate. Such compliance is the enemy of the larger truths.

I am increasingly panicked when I watch and listen to the Prime Minister. A new book by the political commentator Philip Stephens claims the great leader has gone off his food and is exercising maniacally. His pictures in Hello magazine this week show him at a celeb party looking like a waxwork of himself. Anthony Seldon's recent biography paints a picture of a man isolating himself with determination and enjoying the martyrdom his stubbornness brings. Seldon believes Blair now only seriously listens to his God and his wife. A number of times, when asked about the victims of the Iraq war, Blair has piously replied that he is answerable to his maker.

Christian soldiers, brothers in arms, Bush and Blair on their crusade, now feeling they only have to explain in the afterlife why they ordered the murder of thousands of Arabs. The suicide bombers feel the same about their actions too. Isn't that scary?

Biblical references sanctify his utterings on Africa, on duty and responsibility and poverty too. When appropriate they do add depth to a politician's words. But in Blair's case, faith is now becoming a degraded accomplice. Did his Christianity really endorse this war? Or does he think that as a praying Christian, he can do no evil even when he does? In a couple of speeches he has tried to persuade the world that he cares about each and every one whoever they are. "I am my brother's keeper" he incants. So how does he then play out this commitment? By passing asylum and immigration laws which no Conservative government has ever dared to. By NEVER, not once, speaking out on the human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay. Thank God for the Liberal Democrats on this, the only major party which has taken a principled stand on our obligations to the wretched of the earth.

Then there is Blair's unique relationship with facts. We are dealing with a wholly new psychology post-Iraq. We are told the PM didn't lie about weapons of mass destruction and the reasons for going to war even though we know the US government planned to invade Iraq before 11 September, and no weapons have been found. We are told he is not lying now when he says his Government didn't know about the torture of Iraqis, even though reports of abuse were circulating two months before the story broke. No, we are told, he really believes these things. So that's Ok then is it? When they burnt witches way back, they really believed all the women on stakes and pyres were witches. They were crazed by their own beliefs. I don't want my destiny in the hands of a crazed self-believer. Much worse than a liar.

Then there are his politics, so hard to place between the extremes of left and right. Sure he never pretended he was a Socialist but did any of us who voted for him spy an embryonic Tory? In her essay in the New Left Review, political analyst Susan Watkins convincingly shows the conservatism which drives Tony Blair. Much of his focus has been on the consolidation of Thatcherism rather the creation of a new left-of-centre politics. The Economist has accurately described him as "the best Conservative prime minister" we have had.

The cult of Blair survives, partly because his groupies - many within the intelligentsia - cannot bear to repudiate him. The alternative would be much more horrible, they say. Ken Livingstone said as much at a lunch I attended last week. And besides, they argue, look at Mr Blair's emotional fluency, his outward-looking internationalism and courage and important improvements his Government has brought in. I can't disagree that compared to Bush, Blair is a creature of substance. That he has the gift of speech. That he has made a difference to the poorest and brought in tighter race laws and the Human Rights Act.

And I remain convinced that in 1997, the man was open and idealistic and full of possibilities. He was too fond of the Empire and himself but I was pleased to vote for him. He spoke at the launch of my book on race and policy in 1999. He was inspirational. Then power got to him. He turned away from ordinary people. He became awestruck by himself, the fabulously rich, the dazzlingly powerful; delusional too. He handed us over to the leaders of the US while pretending to himself that he had immense influence over them. His Cabinet concurred. We will never know if he was duped by them or whether he duped us - either way his Government has shown itself unfit for office. And that includes Gordon.

Y.Alibhai-Brown@independent.co.uk

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