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Editorial: Blair's knighthood is an offence to the victims of his wars. It is important to oppose it

SUCH is the backlash at the knighthood given Tony Blair — with a petition for it to be rescinded exceeding 150,000 signatures within 24 hours — that the Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle has been forced to step in with the ludicrous assertion that “it is not about politics.”

Knighting Blair is a deeply political move — and one wildly out of step with public opinion.

The explosion of anger is not confined to the left. The Daily Mail reports on military mothers describing it as “the ultimate insult” given the deaths of their children in wars Blair took Britain into on the basis of lies.

Hoyle’s defence — that all prime ministers should be knighted regardless of their record — is itself a sign of how toxic Blair’s legacy is.

He argues that it is standard procedure to honour past PMs. But that is one reason it is crucial to oppose it. 

Knighting Blair is not a step the Establishment would have tried to make in 2016, the year Jeremy Corbyn offered an apology on behalf of the Labour Party for the invasion of Iraq. It may only have been deemed possible in light of the final end of the war in Afghanistan this summer, two decades after Blair followed George W Bush in invading that country — though the total collapse of the US-led occupation and its puppet regime are hardly a suitable backdrop for honouring one of the instigators of that war.

Left voices are torn between outrage at a public accolade for a war criminal and resignation: many point out that knighthoods are generally given to unsavoury characters and point to the admirable characters who have declined a gong as more worthy of respect than those who have accepted one. All that is true.

Yet Blair’s knighthood matters. It is a bid by the ruling class to draw a line under the period of anti-Establishment revolt that began with the bankers’ crash in the year Blair left Downing Street and continued, through the Occupy movement, Corbynism and Brexit, up to the pandemic.

Blair’s premiership was the last in which the British political system held general legitimacy in public eyes. It was followed quickly by a parliamentary expenses scandal that shredded respect for Westminster, an economic crash that exploded his chancellor and successor Gordon Brown’s vainglorious claims to have discovered a stable form of capitalism and an inquiry into the Iraq war that exposed the dirty tricks his government used to justify an unprovoked attack on a sovereign country that posed no threat to Britain.

By lying to justify the most serious action any government can take, Blair permanently damaged confidence in the institution of government. This is the “irreparable damage to both the constitution of the United Kingdom” mentioned in the petition to rescind the knighthood.

Revolutionary socialists will not regret the loss of confidence in the British state he caused, but must seek to channel it into support for radical, democratising change.

But it is more important still to insist that we do not allow the Establishment to normalise Blair as some elder statesman owed deference whether we agree with his politics or not.

Blair is a war criminal. Starting a war of aggression was defined at Nuremberg as the “supreme international crime,” and he did it, not once but multiple times.

The Iraq war lives on in a violent and unstable Middle East and the global spread of violent jihadist terror. The “crime of the century” cannot be erased. It caused death and suffering on a vast scale.

In the words of WH Auden: “Acts of injustice done
Between the setting and the rising sun
In history lie like bones, each one.”

We must not forget Iraq. Blair should be in the dock. The campaign to hold him accountable for his crimes should only be spurred on by this disgraceful decision.

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