UK: Few to no tears for the departure of Bush Jnr's (non-apologetic for Iraq) poodle Print E-mail

London ~~ Thursday May 10, 2007


Ten years in office have not changed Blair

Mary Riddell

Tony Blair leaves Downing Street this morning. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Power is a great preservative. Look at Clinton, Bush, Chirac, Thatcher: give or take a scandal here, a new hairdo or a bit of cosmetic dentistry there, few durable leaders have been radically altered by a long stint at the top. Had they been more malleable, they would have faltered sooner. The same goes for Tony Blair.

I first interviewed him 15 years ago. It was 1992, an election had been lost, and Blair, just one more high-flying hopeful, was aiming for a seat on Labour's national executive committee.

He was, as I remember, charming and slightly vain. After the photographer arrived, he disappeared to comb his hair and don cream jeans, fretting when he discovered a small stain of bicycle chain oil on one leg.

His policy preoccupations - better childcare and keeping the streets safe for old ladies to walk at nights - have since been reiterated a million times. He made some coffee, chatted about his children and acknowledged, diffidently, some personal ambition. Even I, a raw reporter, could spot the towering understatement.

I last interviewed Blair a few weeks ago. The palette had changed - greyer hair and a tangerine complexion - but he seemed otherwise the same old Tone. How else would he have survived? Political Methuselahs can afford no self-doubt, no recriminations, no evolutionary process, no conversions.

A plausible manner and a humility bypass are the lifelines of the long-life leader and the curse of the countries they control.

Obviously Blair changed, as public taste altered and his credibility grew shabbier. The tremulous sincerity (and some, especially on Africa, was well-meant) had to go. Soundbites pertaining to history (as in "hand of") and the people (as in their princess) had the shelf life of cheese.

God, with whom Blair will be spending more time in his retirement, had a more or less obtrusive role. War and terrorism, which had not crossed his thoughts when I first met him in Trimdon, would shape his office and, in the case of the Iraq conflict, rightly stain his legacy.

The good things that he did were equally hard-wired. The freer, more equal society, the better maternity pay and leave, the civil partnerships and the erosion of prejudice, were all rooted in his past.

So was the superficiality, or presentational skill, that made him such a dodgy constitutional reformer and such a hit on Masterchef.

Blair gauged, and moulded, the preoccupations of an affluent and fretful country. I doubt that he has acquired or shed a belief in all his time in office. That is the secret of his durability and the key to his failure, and society's.

If only he could have seen the folly of imprisoning too many people, especially women and children. If only he could have understood the scandal of turning young people into rejects. If he could only have seen how easy it is to embitter a country by overstating tensions, enmities, crimes and dangers.

Whenever Blair did reproach himself, it was for not being tougher - notably, on reorganising public services. But he should also have allowed the country to be gentler, on its not-bad kids, its not-bad NHS, its not-bad civil society and its not-bad crime levels.

That would have freed him up to be tougher on its rubbish transport, its divisive schooling, its fractured communities and its cruel penal policy.

But leaders, like leopards, never change their spots.

 London ~~ Friday May 11 2007

He will always be defined by the war he started, not the conflict he ended

Despite his achievements, Blair lost both middle England and the radical intelligentsia. Brown will struggle to win them back
David Marquand

The monstrous shadow of Iraq has hung over Tony Blair's prime ministership for so long that it is hard to remember the achievements of his first term. Yet they were extraordinary, in scope and significance. Under Blair, Britain acquired a fundamental law - the Human Rights Act - for the first time in its history. It has not yet been fully digested. Blair and his ministers clearly haven't understood it; and its repercussions for the dealings of private individuals and organisations have yet to be grasped by the wider public outside the legal profession. But, like a stone thrown into a pool, it has created ripples going well beyond the expectations of its authors. The same applies, rather more obviously, to the devolution statutes in Great Britain and the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.

In Great Britain there are now three centres of power, each embodying a distinct political will, and each helping to foster a distinct political culture. The old union state, created in 1707, has gone for ever. The Good Friday agreement was still more revolutionary. In Northern Ireland, majoritarian democracy on the classical British pattern is no more, replaced by an extraordinarily subtle and complex form of consensual democracy that has much more in common with the low countries than any other Anglophone polity. Meanwhile, the sacred cow of state sovereignty, which British politicians and bureaucrats have traditionally viewed with awed reverence, has been slaughtered, and the Irish Republic's stake in the governance of the six counties has been entrenched.

True, this transformation is not solely, or even mainly, due to Blair. The Human Rights Act and devolution were part of John Smith's legacy. The credit for the Belfast agreement belongs to a long line of pioneers, including the Irish external relations department, John Hume, David Trimble and John Major. But the constitutional revolution in Great Britain would not have happened if Blair had not thrown his weight behind it. And his role in the making of the Belfast agreement was second to none. If it sticks, as now seems more probable than not, the fraught period leading up to the agreement will go down as his finest hour.

By a tragic irony, however, the part of his legacy about which he cared most is already unravelling. From day one of his leadership he devoted himself, with ruthless determination, exhilarating panache and frenetic energy, to the creation of a new social coalition to replace the Thatcher coalition that had transformed British politics in the 80s. That was the meaning of "New" Labour, of the "young country", of the third way, even of the naff mawkishness of the "people's princess". In place of the old Labour party, spawned by the inward-looking culture of the first industrial revolution, a new broad-based, cross-class, outward-looking, ideology-lite, fashion-conscious new movement would appear on the political stage, reconciling irreconcilables and reflecting the airy rootlessness and ecumenical goodwill of its creator and leader.

At first the project was astoundingly successful, as the crushing victories of 1997 and 2001 bore witness. Blair's entourage talked hubristically of a "progressive century", by which they meant a century dominated by them and their political heirs; and their hopes seemed well founded. But Iraq put paid to them. The miserable 2005 election result, which Labour won with only 35% of the popular vote and 22% of the electorate, showed that the Blair coalition's days were numbered. This month's local elections have shown that it is breaking apart. Middle England, whose conquest was Blair's overriding goal and greatest political achievement, has turned against him. David Cameron is now the chief prophet of political ecumenism and the chief peddler of hope to the southern middle class. If Labour wins the next general election, as is perfectly possible, it will do so on the back of its traditional constituency in its old, now largely de-industrialised, heartlands.

Dwarfing that irony is a greater one. Blair was, and I suspect still is, the most "European" prime minister since Edward Heath. He meant what he said when he proclaimed his wish to give Britain leadership in Europe. He wanted to join the euro and, in an ideal world, would have liked to ratify the constitutional treaty. Above all, he wanted to bridge the gulf between Britain and the leading states of the union, and to reconcile his insular fellow citizens with their European destiny.

Here too the omens seemed auspicious at the start of his reign. For the first time since Heath's tragic fall in February 1974, Britain seemed a normal European country, comfortable in its European skin. But here too the Iraq misadventure smothered early hopes. The breach between Britain and the heartland states of the EU has been repaired, but it went deep while it lasted and helped to fortify the Europhobia of the tabloids and the suspicions of the public. Britain is still uncomfortable in its European skin; and, to far too much of the political class, the Atlantic still seems narrower than the Channel.

The ironies do not end there. Blair's moral interventionism has often been compared to Gladstone's, and there is something in it. Blair's blazing attacks on the evils perpetrated in Kosovo were reminiscent of Gladstone's famous philippics against the Ottoman empire's Bulgarian horrors; and Gladstone's insistence that civilised countries enjoyed a "moral right of interference" when others transgressed the norms of civilised behaviour can plausibly be seen as the intellectual progenitor of Blair's doctrine of the "international community".

But Blair, the Gladstonian moralist, soon gave way to a very different figure, much more reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling's imperialists shouldering the white man's burden. The most obvious single feature of the Iraq war is that it was not waged by the international community that Blair had celebrated in his first term. It was waged by Bush's infamous "coalition of the willing" - the US, Britain and a distinctly unimpressive gaggle of minor allies - in defiance of the only body entitled to speak for any international community worthy of the name. The end result is that the whole idea of moral interventionism has been discredited, not least in the US.

The effects on the national conversation, and above all on the conversations of the left and centre-left, have been uniformly malign. Though far too many Labour politicians seem oblivious of the fact, the radical intelligentsia has played a decisive role in left politics since Labour first became a contender for power in the 1920s. Labour's great victories - 1945, 1966, 1997 and 2001 - have all reflected a tacit alliance between the radical intelligentsia and the party.

Labour's great achievement in 1945 and again in 1966 was to stand not just for the Labour interest, but for the progressive conscience. That was still more true of 1997, and although the sheen had begun to wear off, it was still broadly true in 2001. Thanks overwhelmingly to the escalating horror of Iraq, but also to the flood of illiberal legislation since 9/11, the radical intelligentsia is more confused, unhappy and alienated than at any time I can remember. Brown may manage to heal the breach between the machine and the intelligentsia, and I fervently hope he does. But it will be an uphill task; and if he does succeed, he will owe nothing to his predecessor.

· David Marquand is a former Labour MP and a visiting fellow in the department of politics at Oxford University

 London ~~ Friday May 11 2007

The Legacy: Tony Blair, Prime Minister, 1997-2007

By Andrew Grice, Political Editor

Tony Blair has apologised for his mistakes and admitted that his legacy in the eyes of many people will be dominated by Iraq when he stands down as Prime Minister on 27 June.

In an emotional and highly personal speech, Mr Blair insisted that he had done what he believed was "right for my country" and stopped short of saying sorry for the Iraq war.

But he struck his most conciliatory tone over Iraq, admitting the fierce "blowback" of global terrorism and conceding he would leave office with many Britons believing the Iraq invasion was wrong.

Loyal Blairites launched a campaign to pin the blame for the mistakes made after the conflict on the Bush administration, which rejected Britain's advice by abolishing the Iraqi army after Saddam Hussein was toppled. Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street communications director, and Baroness Morgan of Huyton, the former director of government relations, both criticised Donald Rumsfeld, the former US defence secretary, for the post-war decisions.

Lady Morgan admitted: "The fundamental problem is it [Iraq] has become a place where terrorists from every group are now operating." She added: "The operation of the war and post-war planning was Donald Rumsfeld and I don't think President George Bush was running Donald Rumsfeld in the end. Operationally, I think [Mr Blair] was frustrated that things didn't always happen in the way that he'd hoped or expected would take place."

Mr Blair, speaking in his Sedgefield constituency, pleaded with the British people to believe that he acted in good faith, even if they disagreed with him on Iraq, but admitted they would be the judge.

"Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right," he said. "I may have been wrong. That's your call. But believe one thing if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country."

He defended his "shoulder-to-shoulder" approach with the United States over Iraq and Afghanistan, but admitted: "The blowback since, from global terrorism and those elements that support it, has been fierce and unrelenting and costly. For many, it simply isn't and can't be worth it. For me, I think we must see it through. They, the terrorists, who threaten us here and round the world, will never give up if we give up. It is a test of will and of belief. And we can't fail it."

Mr Blair, who drafted his speech as he flew to his constituency in Co Durham, conceded the "great expectations" when he came to power in 1997 had not been fulfilled in every part. Although some aides admitted he originally wanted to carry on until next year, he said: "I have been Prime Minister of this country for just over 10 years. In this job, in the world today, that is long enough for me, but more especially for the country."

John Prescott confirmed he would stand down as deputy Labour leader, and is expected to leave the Commons at the next general election. Nominations for the posts of Labour leader and deputy leader open on Monday and close on Thursday.

The results will be known on 24 June and Mr Blair will leave Downing Street on 27 June, when Gordon Brown will almost certainly become Prime Minister. Mr Brown may win the leadership unopposed in a "coronation" as left-wing MPs have not yet mustered the necessary nominations by 45 Labour MPs.

Mr Brown led the tributes when Mr Blair informed the Cabinet of his departure timetable in a low-key fashion at its weekly meeting yesterday. The Chancellor praised Mr Blair's achievements as "unique, unprecedented and enduring".

He will launch his leadership campaign today, insisting he would welcome a contest and heralding a mixture of continuity and change. In a sign that he may distance himself from Mr Blair's decisions on Iraq, Mr Brown said in a television interview yesterday: "At all times he tried to do the right thing."

President Bush said he would miss Mr Blair, as Prime Minister, and was ready to work with Mr Brown, confident that he "understands the consequences of failure" in Iraq. He hailed Mr Blair as a "political figure who is capable of thinking over the horizon", adding: "I have found him to be a man who's kept his word, which sometimes is rare in the political circles I run in."

Cabinet ministers said the Prime Minister had acknowledged at their meeting that Labour needed to move on but urged them to "entrench" his reforms. Some expressed doubts about whether Mr Brown would continue them but allies of the Chancellor said he would bring in "different reforms".

The Labour MP Frank Field said he was "saddened" by Mr Blair's resignation. He told GMTV's Sunday programme: "We're divorcing the person who's been most successful in winning us elections and doing it in almost a clinical fashion." He added: "My guess is as we never, ever, ever produced anybody like him to win elections, in 18 months time we may be looking back to this week and thinking, 'Wow! How extraordinary that we shoe-horned him out in this fashion!'"

A CommunicateResearch survey for tonight's BBC Newsnight programme found that Mr Brown was seen as less "in touch with ordinary people" than Mr Blair, David Cameron or Sir Menzies Campbell. But Mr Cameron was seen as more concerned with spin and public relations than Mr Brown.

Mr Cameron said the Prime Minister left a legacy of "dashed hopes". He said: "Obviously some good things have happened in the last 10 years, not least the conclusion of the peace process in Northern Ireland just a few days ago. But when the Prime Minister spoke about some hopes that have been disappointed, I think that was putting it mildly. I think many people will look back on the last 10 years of dashed hopes and big disappointments, of so much promised and so little delivered."

Sir Menzies, the Liberal Democrat leader, tabled a Commons motion calling for an immediate general election so the people could choose the next Prime Minister. He said Mr Blair had presided over "a decade of missed opportunities in which the hopes of the British people for a new kind of politics were shattered".

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, said: "I think that in the same way that perhaps one of the biggest long-term successes is bringing peace to Ireland, the most catastrophic error is the war in Iraq. It has, in a sense, created a whole new generation of terrorists."

The resignation speech

This is an edited extract of Mr Blair's speech:

I have come back here, to Sedgefield, to my constituency, where my political journey began and where it is fitting it should end. Today, I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labour Party. The party will now select a new leader. On 27 June, I will tender my resignation from the office of Prime Minister to the Queen.

I have been Prime Minister of this country for just over 10 years. In this job, in the world today, that is long enough for me but more especially for the country. Sometimes the only way you conquer the pull of power is to set it down.

1997 was a moment for a new beginning, for sweeping away all the detritus of the past. Expectations were so high, too high, too high in a way for either of us.

Now in 2007, you can easily point to the challenges, the things that are wrong, the grievances that fester. But go back to 1997 ... Think about your own living standards then and now ... There is only one Government since 1945 that can say all of the following: more jobs, fewer unemployed, better health and education results, lower crime, and economic growth in every quarter - this one.

Decision-making is hard. Everyone always says 'Listen to the people'. The trouble is they don't always agree ... And, in time, you realise putting the country first doesn't mean doing the right thing according to conventional wisdom or the prevailing consensus - it means doing what you genuinely believe to be right. Your duty is to act according to your conviction.

All of that can get contorted so that people think you act according to some messianic zeal. Doubt, hesitation, reflection, consideration and reconsideration - these are all the good companions of proper decision-making. But the ultimate obligation is to decide.

I decided we should stand shoulder to shoulder with our oldest ally. I did so out of belief. So Afghanistan and then Iraq, the latter, bitterly controversial. Removing Saddam and his sons from power, as with removing the Taliban, was over with relative ease. But the blowback since, from global terrorism and those elements that support it, has been fierce and unrelenting and costly. For many, it simply isn't and can't be worth it.

For me, I think we must see it through. They, the terrorists, who threaten us here and round the world, will never give up if we give up. It is a test of will and of belief, and we can't fail it.

Great expectations not fulfilled in every part, for sure. Occasionally, people say, as I said earlier, 'They were too high, you should have lowered them.' But, to be frank, I would not have wanted it any other way. I was, and remain, as a person and as a prime minister, an optimist. Politics may be the art of the possible but, at least in life, give the impossible a go.

So, of course, the vision is painted in the colours of the rainbow, and the reality is sketched in the duller tones of black, white and grey.

But I ask you to accept one thing - hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong. That's your call. But believe one thing if nothing else - I did what I thought was right for our country."

This country is a blessed nation. The British are special, the world knows it, in our innermost thoughts, we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth. It has been an honour to serve it. I give my thanks to you, the British people, for the times I have succeeded, and my apologies to you for the times I have fallen short.
 London ~~ Thursday May 10, 2007

Sober speech from a man still yearning for power

Tony Blair has long been able to convince an audience that he can see a bit of himself in each of them. But only today could he project a Britain that had a bit of Blair running all the way through it, writes Ros Taylor

Tony Blair speaking at Trimdon Labour Club today. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA.
No man is an island. Well, maybe. Tony Blair's farewell speech, a sober affair from a man still yearning for power, was a sign-off from someone abruptly and painfully alone and yet utterly confident that he had written himself into Britain's collective DNA.

Grateful and halting at first, it was nonetheless breathtaking: not quite the tearjerker he produced at Manchester last autumn, but with the same ready humility and that gift for flattery matched only by Bill Clinton.

The line about Britain's superiority over all other nations may have been inspired by Nicolas Sarkozy's claim of the same for France on Sunday.

Blair has long been able to convince an audience that he can see a bit of himself - the idealistic bit, usually - in each of them. But only today could he project a Britain that had a bit of Blair running all the way through it: a Britain that would soon talk about the "Blair era" as a thing of the past and, he hopes, a golden age.

"I have been very lucky and very blessed," he said, and it was a very Blairite word to choose: homely but somehow spiritual. "This country is a blessed nation. The British are special." It was a rebuke to the accusations of kowtowing to America that have bedevilled the second half of his premiership.

Unusually for Blair, the odd enigmatic line crept in. "Politics may be the art of the possible; but, at least in life, give the impossible a go." He may have been alluding to Iraq. He may have been writing off PFI. He may have been warning us about Gordon Brown. Who knows? Few prime ministers ever manage to leave on an optimistic note. It was enough of an achievement for him just to do that.

The parting shot was an ever-so-slightly choked "Good luck" and a pause - the one that said: there's so much more I could have done for you - and then the resigned glance down at his notes before the applause erupted. He was already in extra time. Still they weren't sure whether it was all over. It is now.
 London ~~ Friday May 11 2007

Famed as a favourite attack dog in the imperial kennel

Blair's first loyalty was to the White House. The result has been a legacy of hatred that ultimately ended his premiership
By Tariq Ali

The departure, too, was spun in classic New Labour, Dear Leader fashion. A carefully selected audience, a self-serving speech, the quivering lip and soon the dramaturgy was over. He had arrived at No 10 with a carefully orchestrated display of union flags. Patriotic fervour was also on show yesterday, with references to "this blessed country ... the greatest country in the world" - no mention of the McDonald's, Starbucks, Benetton that adorn every high street - nor of how Britain under his watch came to be seen in the rest of the world: a favourite attack dog in the imperial kennel.

Tony Blair's principal success was in winning three general elections in a row. A second-rate actor, he turned out to be a crafty and avaricious politician. Bereft of ideas, he eagerly grasped and tried to improve on Margaret Thatcher's legacy. But though in many ways Blair's programme has been a euphemistic, if bloodier, version of Thatcher's, the style of their departures is very different. Thatcher's overthrow by her fellow Conservatives was a matter of high drama. Blair makes his unwilling exit against a backdrop of car bombs and carnage in Iraq, with hundreds of thousands left dead or maimed from his policies, and London a prime target for terrorist attack. Thatcher's supporters described themselves afterwards as horror-struck by what they had done. Even some of Blair's greatest sycophants in the media confess to a sense of relief as he finally quits.

Blair was always loyal to the occupants of the White House. In Europe he preferred Aznar to Zapatero, Merkel to Schröder, was seriously impressed by Berlusconi and, most recently, made no secret of his support for Sarkozy. He understood that privatisation and deregulation at home were part of the same mechanism as wars abroad.

If this judgment seems unduly harsh, let me quote Rodric Braithwaite, a former senior adviser to Blair, writing in the Financial Times on August 2 2006: "A spectre is stalking British television, a frayed and waxy zombie straight from Madame Tussaud's. This one, unusually, seems to live and breathe. Perhaps it comes from the CIA's box of technical tricks, programmed to spout the language of the White House in an artificial English accent ... Mr Blair has done more damage to British interests in the Middle East than Anthony Eden, who led the UK to disaster in Suez 50 years ago. In the past 100 years we have bombed and occupied Egypt and Iraq, put down an Arab uprising in Palestine and overthrown governments in Iran, Iraq and the Gulf. We can no longer do these things on our own, so we do them with the Americans. Mr Blair's total identification with the White House has destroyed his influence in Washington, Europe and the Middle East itself: who bothers with the monkey if he can go straight to the organ-grinder?"

This, too, is mild compared to what is privately said in the Foreign Office and MoD. Senior diplomats have told me it would not upset them too much if Blair were tried as a war criminal. But while neither Blair nor any of those who launched a war of aggression and occupation in Iraq have been held to account, a civil servant and MP's researcher were yesterday shamefully jailed for exposing some of the dealings between Bush and Blair that lay behind the war.

What this reveals is anger and impotence. There is no mechanism to get rid of a prime minister unless their party loses confidence. The Conservative leadership decided Thatcher had to go because of her negative attitude to Europe. Labour tends to be more sentimental towards its leaders, and in this case they owed so much to Blair that nobody wanted to be cast in the role of Brutus. In the end he decided to go himself. The disaster in Iraq had made him hated and support began to ebb. One reason for the slowness was that the country is without a serious opposition. In parliament, the Conservatives simply followed Blair. The Lib Dems were ineffective. Blair had summed up Britain's attitude to Europe at Nice in 2000: "It is possible, in our judgment, to fight Britain's corner, get the best out of Europe for Britain, and exercise real authority and influence in Europe. That is as it should be. Britain is a world power."

This grotesque fantasy that "Britain is a world power" is meant to justify that it will always be EU-UK. The real union is with Washington. France and Germany are seen as rivals for Washington's affections, not potential allies in an independent EU. The French decision to reintegrate themselves into Nato and pose as the most vigorous US ally was a structural shift which weakened Europe. Britain responded by encouraging a fragmented political order in Europe through expansion, and insisted on a permanent US presence there.

Blair's half-anointed successor, Gordon Brown, is more intelligent but politically no different. It is a grim prospect: an alternative politics - anti-war, anti-Trident, pro public services - is confined to the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales. Its absence nationally fuels the anger felt by substantial sections of the population, reflected in voting against those in power, or not voting at all.

· Tariq Ali is the author of Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, Terror, London < >

 London ~~ May 10, 2007

Iraq clouds Blair tributes from religious leaders

Joanna Sugden

Religious leaders have paid qualified tribute to the premiership of Tony Blair on the announcement of his intention to stand down in June.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said the Prime Minister understood “why religion matters” and the importance of faith communities, but he emphasised that the Church of England had not always agreed with his decisions. “There have naturally been differences of vision and judgment between the Prime Minister and the Church of England, not least over the Iraq war, but he has been consistently willing to allow these disagreements to be voiced and discussed openly,” he said.

Dr Williams wished the Prime Minister well in the future: “I hope and pray that his recognition of the contribution of faith and faith communities to the common good of our society will prove to be one of his most enduring legacies; one that will be built on by his successors."

The Jewish community, represented by the Board of Deputies, had words of admiration for Mr Blair’s commitment to Israel and the Middle East peace process. Henry Grunwald, QC, the Board’s President said Mr Blair had been a “true friend of Israel” during the conflict with Lebanon in July 2005. “Mr Blair’s clear understanding of the existential threats faced by Israel and its desire for peace with its neighbours will be long remembered.”

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain said Mr Blair's leadership had moved the country towards a position where "religious discrimination was regarded as just as reprehensible as racial discrimination". But he added that there had been "some serious errors of judgement" in the Premier's support of George Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq. "These errors - and the horrendous cost in human lives that have resulted and continue to result from them - may well overshadow the many other more positive achievements of Tony Blair," he said.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, said he couldn't comment on all of Tony Blair's policies, but recognised "serious divisions of opinion" on the war in Iraq. "History will make a better judgement than today." he said.

The Cardinal wished the Blair family well for the future and said, “I would warmly commend his efforts in securing peace in Northern Ireland and his constant concern for the eradication of poverty in Africa."

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who has previously described Mr Blair’s decision to invade Iraq as a “breach of international law”, said that such disagreement should not detract from the “many remarkable things” Mr Blair had achieved. “Tony Blair has been committed to righting many of the wrongs he inherited during his first term, not least in the establishment of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and his concerted attempts to alleviate poverty in the UK and abroad,” Dr Sentamu said. The Archbishop praised Mr Blair’s commitment to maintaining the union between law and morality and religion.