His announcement in 2004 that he would not fight a fourth election as Labour leader was forced on him by MPs fearful of losing their seats. But having won the 2005 election Blair showed no sign of being ready to retire.This led to the revolt of erstwhile Blairites last September forcing him to announce that he would be gone within a year.
When a recent poll asked what Blair would be remembered for, offering a range of alternatives, including 'improving public services' and 'the minimum wage', 69 per cent chose Iraq, and 9 per cent his relationship with George Bush. Three per cent opted for the minimum wage.
The public perception is correct. Modest improvements at home have been completely overshadowed by the disaster and disgrace of the Iraq war, coupled with Blair's grovelling relationship with George W Bush, acknowledged almost universally as a leading contender for the title of Worst US President Ever.
Now that the troops are being forced to withdraw, it has become commonplace to admit that the project was 'flawed', 'mistaken' or 'poorly planned'. But such limited admissions do not begin to encompass the scale of what has gone wrong, the disaster we have brought upon Iraq and its lasting global effects.
One sober estimate put the number of Iraqis who have lost their lives as a result of the invasion and occupation at 655,000. Some two million people have fled the country, placing huge burdens on neighbouring Syria and Jordan. Another 1.5 million are estimated to be refugees in their own land. Iraq's different communities are at war with each other, and it may prove impossible to hold the country together. A whole country, a whole society, has been wrecked.
To portray this as just a 'mistake', or as unforeseeable consequences of a wellintentioned act, or to blame it all on 'the terrorists', as Blair does, is not just ludicrous; it is completely dishonest. There were no 'terrorists' in Iraq under Saddam's ruthless rule. And it was entirely predictable - and was predicted - that there would be bloody resistance to the occupation. The consequences of the invasion will be with the Iraqis and the whole Middle East for decades to come.
Worst of all has been the dishonesty with which virtually every aspect of the war has been handled - above all by Blair himself. It is doubtful whether we have ever had a less honest prime minister. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he hardly knows the difference between fantasy and reality. What he wants to believe is true, is true as far as he is concerned. Perhaps he 'sincerely' believed in those non-existent weapons of mass destruction, but only because he wanted to. To claim that he was misled by the intelligence, as he does, is nonsense.
The truth is that he and Bush had agreed on the plan to attack Iraq in April 2002, and they then had to find or invent the reasons that would apparently justify such an attack. WMDs were the key invention in that respect. But not the only one. Even more blatantly dishonest was the linking of Saddam Hussein with 9/11. There never was any evidence for this, but Blair, like Bush, managed to suggest there was a connection, so that the attack on Iraq could be sold as the next stage in the so-called 'war on terror'.
Before the attack took place, Blair's line was that Saddam could remain in power if only he gave up those terrifying WMDs. After the failure to discover any such weapons, he took the opposite line.The war was justified because it had removed the tyrant.The dishonesty is so blatant as to be almost breathtaking.
It suits Labour loyalists to shrug off Iraq as an unfortunate sideshow. But, quite apart from the sheer callousness of such a verdict, it completely misses the scandal of Blair's conduct throughout the crisis. Dishonesty was inherent in the war project from beginning to end. Yet Blair has never offered a word of apology or an admission of error. No one responsible has been punished; no one has resigned. It is the most disgraceful episode in British politics in the past 60 years at least.
Astonishingly, this is the man who has constantly paraded himself before us as a leader whose decisions are guided by morality, who always, in his own eyes, does 'the right thing'.The only possible conclusion must be that he is a man of impregnable self-righteousness, endowed with an unrivalled capacity for self-deception.
We are well rid of him. But, as with Thatcher and the Tories, Labour has been so weakened and corrupted by Blair's devious dictatorship that it is doubtful whether it has the will or the ability to shake off the habits of evasion, dishonesty and subservience to Washington that are his real legacy to British politics.