I was in a taxi yesterday and after a brief chat about cricket and the virtue of the iPhone, the taxi driver – who, it is important to say, was of Pakistani origin – asked me what I thought of “that Blair”. “Did I watch the programme?”, he asked. But, before I could answer he went off on a rant about Mr Blair as a liar, a murderer and that he would be forced to apologise before the one true God, and so on.
So clearly Tony Blair is a controversial character and his memoirs have generated an enormous amount of interest. But just how important was he as an individual? Clearly he thinks that he made a difference, even to the extent of claiming he would have won a fourth term for Labour. But those of us interested in politics and economics like to see ourselves as rational and focused on theories and concepts. If our theories are correct, it ought not to matter who is pressing the levers.
Of course, this is a very old argument and there are doubtless some Marxists who still chant “History is not made by great men” in their sleep. But, it is a serious issue. There have been a couple of blog entries about whether changing the voting system will help or hinder libertarian ideas. But what if it really does depend more on the charisma, character and sheer luck of the particular politicians involved? What if the Falklands War hadn’t happened and Mrs Thatcher had remained unpopular; or Labour had elected Healey instead of Foot – or Brown instead of Blair?
Tony Blair, as my taxi driver forcefully told me, “caused a lot of trouble in the world”. We might presume that some, even much of this “trouble” would not have happened without him. So where does that leave those of us who deal in ideas?
And now I’ve joined the massed chorus commenting on the Blair book I’m actually going to sit down and read it!