The official trailer for Killing$ of Tony Blair
At his most recent public outing after the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry, Tony Blair was unrepentant. He presented himself as a "decision maker", which he rhymed and then contrasted with the lowly "commentator" – someone who never bears the weight of political responsibility and so is free to fling around accusations like "War Criminal". Never mind that adhering to this weird dualism would exempt every convicted war criminal ever – they are all, after all, "decision makers" – it showed the unpredictable moral postures Blair is willing to strike. These days, when he isn't making artful defences of the invasion of Iraq, he lives a life as migratory as capital itself: darting across borders to extract value from every last instant of misery globalisation has to offer. How do you interrogate an entity as inscrutable as Tony Blair?
Whatever the best method, George Galloway's The Killing$ of Tony Blair (yes that's a dollar sign in the title) isn't up to it. Out on Wednesday, it's a predictable 90 minutes which doesn't reveal anything new and exhausts itself by throwing everything it can at its subject. Its purpose is to indict Blair for his "killings", real and figurative – the 1 to 2 million who died as a result of the 2003 Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq; the Labour Party as a means of delivering social democracy in the 21st century; and the victims of Tony Blair Associates, his post-premiership consultancy for dictatorships. These ambitions aren't abstract – the film has a stated purpose of actually bringing about Blair's downfall. It will take him "all the way to the Hague, to a war crimes trial and to the slamming of a cell door shut behind him", Galloway claimed, when canvassing for Kickstarter donations.
Although its title makes it sound like a political snuff film, it spends most of its time recapitulating a well-known narrative about the failure of New Labour and Blair's shady business dealings, using the most staid documentary techniques. We see a lot of well-known talking heads who don't like Blair talking about the bad things he did; a lot of Telegraph.co.uk articles on someone's computer screen (is there a more boring way of conveying information?) showing news stories about corruption; and some low-budget animations that linger on-screen longer than they should. A fedora-sporting Galloway distracts us with his narration, recycling banalities and bad jokes. (If his lyrical drawl achieves one thing, it's bringing out a sly assonance between "Muh-doch" and "Muh-der".) The Kickstarter promises of dramatic Michael Moore-style interventions with Blair's apologists are broken – the closest we get is one scene when Galloway knocks on the door of Blair's office and isn't let it. How this will contribute to throwing Teflon Tony in the docks isn't clear.
The film begins with what we might call peak Blair: archive footage of him addressing the people of Iraq in 2003, with that inimitable sense of committed insincerity, as bombs fall over Baghdad. "I'm glad to be able to speak to you to tell you the years of brutality, oppression and fear are coming to an end... our forces are friends and liberators of the Iraqi people – not your conquerors." It's juxtaposed with a more honest representation of the consequences of Blair's emancipatory bombs: footage of occupying forces executing and torturing Iraqi civilians. It's a simple montage technique, but pretty effective – you prepare yourself for a caustic 90 minutes.
But soon all sense of structure is lost. It jumps to Tony Blair Associates, and how Blair is making a "killing" (Galloway rubs his fingers together to show he's talking about money) by providing PR for dictatorships like Egypt's General el-Sisi and Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayer. Blair advised the latter how to manage media relations after a massacre of 14 striking oil workers.
We then move back to 1997 and are presented with a long list of misdemeanours: Bernie Ecclestone's infamous Labour Party donation, which spared F1 from having to ban tobacco advertising; Blair's Faustian pact with the "Sun King" Rupert Muh-doch; the scandalous selling of a useless air traffic control system to Tanzania; the cover-up of BAE's bribery during the Al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia; Blair's role as an advisor to JP Morgan; and more. We hear how Blair "presidentialised" the prime minister's office, turning his cabinet into a rubber-stamping organisation, but none of these examples of moral failing are used to build a meaningful theory, psychological or political, of why Blair acted as he did.
The film's central moral argument is the invasion of Iraq. But even here there's a lack of historical explanation, making the 2003 invasion look like a spontaneous crime. We hear how Blair was Bush's poodle and, from Noam Chomsky, that the structural motivation for war was to establish a base "in the heart of the main energy producing region of the world". But no time is given to the history of Iraq and its relationship to Britain, which has always used imperialist privilege – military and economic power – to dominate and intimidate its former colony. Long before Blair had political power, Britain was destabilising Iraq with murderous sanctions and later bombed it, along with the US, in a short, often forgotten, campaign in 1998. In this sense, the 2003 war was perfectly continuous with British imperial policy in the Middle East. What made Blair distinctive was the way he articulated British imperialism in the language of liberalism; a technique so effective it's been used as a cover for regime change ever since.
It's this irreducible space between Blair as an individual and the historical forces he represents that hampers The Killing$ of Tony Blair. There's a tension between him as a malicious individual, obsessed with money and power, and a cipher for all that's calamitous with life in the early 21st century – Galloway ends the film by saying, after all that, that Blair is "just a symptom". But if Blair's guilty of everything, as the film suggests, then he's guilty of nothing. This is why Galloway – whose comments on sexual politics and recent endorsement of Brexit on nationalist labour grounds have made him persona non grata with most of the radical left – is looking pathetic and unaccomplished at the end: his scattergun approach felling everything but Blair himself.
War criminals who have faced trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) – all of them, by the way, have been African, which shows its racial bias – aren't convicted for being incarnations of world-historical evil but for committing specific counts of crimes. If you look at the few warrants the ICC has produced, they focus on certain events on certain dates when war crimes can be feasibly established. If this film was really interested in making Blair's arrest and trial at the Hague politically feasible, it would have taken a breath and spent time focusing on a specific potential war crime – the use of chemical weapons or depleted uranium in Iraq, for example, which is mentioned only in passing, to build a concrete case; it would have interviewed figures from the ICC – instead of people like Stephen Fry – and asked why Blair's warmongering apparently falls "outside their jurisdiction"; it would have developed tactics and strategies for physically apprehending him. Until someone makes a serious effort to do so, Blair's eternal presence – in newspapers, on TV and unnecessary documentaries like this – is the price we'll have to pay.
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