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Why I Need to See Tony Blair in Prison

Like a spoiled child or an incontinent dog, Blair still doesn't understand what he did.

(Photo by Fabio Venni)

If you're like me, you want to see Tony Blair in prison. To face justice for what he did, because crimes should not go unpunished – but also because you want to see it, because you need to. Like an itch in the world, the sense of something maddeningly out of balance; everything happened the way it did, and Tony Blair is still not in prison.

I need to know what it looks like. Blair trapped in a small white room behind a locked door – I imagine him standing, not pacing or hunched over in despair but stock-still as if to attention, but with those mad and manic eyes of his trawling the four blank walls for anything he can say or do to get himself out of there, eyes so used to the grand sweep of crowds and cameras that they don't know how to adjust to such a small space, zipping timorously from blur to blur in search of escape. Tony Blair shrouded in the baggy droop of a prison jumpsuit, the arms that used to order armies and missiles from one side of the world to the other now hanging limply by his side, only a creature now, a thing of bones and rot. Tony Blair in the dock, lips pursed behind Plexiglas as they read out the charges, his terror pulsing in a little vein under his chin, forgetting everything his lawyers and PR guys told him to say in the fizz of a panicked brain, stammering, whining, desperate, and finally silent, mouth still flapping uselessly, wheezing without meaning under the omnipresent glare of his own guilt. It's a nice image. It helps me sleep.


It might still happen; if a leader of the Labour party can go to war in three continents, another leader of the Labour party should be able to help put him on trial. For the moment, though, Blair is free. And he's not just free, he's everywhere. Since the Chilcot report was published, the man's been hopping around in a media frenzy, on the radio, on TV, in press conferences, trying to chatter over his atrocities. Every time I see him there's the same shock – dear God, what is this creature? With his high bony scab of a forehead and his grinning pinch of a chin, the grim little pegs in his mouth, his eyebrows stolen from the evil vizier in a cartoon, his ears like the ones that shitty science fiction uses to denote an alien species, the utter derangement in his eyes – did we really let this thing rule an entire country for ten years? Did we really go to war because a gremlin that looks like it was made in a budget film studio told us to? Did we really think, however briefly, that this slimy monster was cool, because it invited celebrities to Downing Street and used to be in a band, because it slathered primary colours all over a rotting country; were we really surprised when the thing started to kill?

Tony Blair is not a person like other people, but something ugly and strange, a flesh-demon casting its charms, something that to do its evil first needs to be loved. Surging forwards on his stream of otherworldly certainty, Tony Blair seems unable to ever accept that he is no longer loved, that nobody respects his opinion. This is why he keeps making his strange and unwanted interventions into the politics he left behind. Throughout the fast rise and agonising decay of Jeremy Corbyn, he's been there, making his needling little pleas in op-ed pages and in TV studios, first saying that Corbyn's socialism is unelectable, and then – finally abandoning his long pretension to do evil only as a matter of political expediency – that it's dangerous precisely because it could win, as if Labour members and voters wanted some heartfelt advice from the Butcher of Basra. While they still worked, Tony Blair's powers were terrifying. Look what he did to Iraq; look what he did to Britain. But the fancy cannot cheat so well; he's a mangy, defeated creature now, waiting for a cell to take him.


See, for instance, his response to the Chilcot inquiry. Tony Blair really thought he could dazzle his way out of this one again, as if all his shine hadn't rusted long ago. In front of the TV cameras he made a sham non-apology for the slaughter in Iraq, an utterly bizarre performance. The aftermath was more bloody than he'd anticipated, he said. It was; the country fell into a decade of murder and chaos. "For all this," he said, "I express more sorrow, regret and apology and in greater measure than you can know or may believe." A strange kind of speech act, expressing "more apology" rather than ever actually apologising, unable to resist the opportunity to look down at the little people on the other side of the camera lenses, the ones who have never felt the hand of history on their shoulders, who can't even begin to understand the great and noble regret of the great and noble man after he fucked up in a vaster and stupider way than any other recent leader.

But he couldn't leave it there; he just kept on talking, piling more excuses on his failure to face what he'd done. "As the report makes clear," he said, "there were no lies." The report does not make that clear. Its remit did not include the question of whether or not Blair lied or was simply misled: Chilcot is not a mind-reader, and the questions of heterophenomenology were not considered in his inquiry. Blair couldn't even admit that his war had made the world a worse place than it was beforehand, first lambasting the "conspiracy theories" of those who think he lied, and then indulging in a piece of sci-fi alternate-history, in which the violence of the Iraq War is only delayed until the Arab Spring, as if a little story he invented could excuse the lives he snuffed out.


Tony Blair stood on top of a pile of corpses, and tried to get us all to agree how reasonable he was. Because he just doesn't understand; like a spoiled child or an incontinent dog, he doesn't understand what he did. And that's why I need to see him in prison, to see the full realisation trickling across his face, to see him finally, after two decades of jabbering, learn to shut up.


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