"How do these three men in a boat see the world, and our place in it?"In Roman Polanski’s film, The Ghost, currently doing the rounds, Pierce Brosnan plays a recently retired British Prime Minister, sequestered in his American home-from-home, hard at work on his tennis and his memoirs. With his uncertain accent, impossible tan, ersatz charm, pectoral presence and petulant glamour, Pierce Brosnan makes an unconvincing Tony Blair. He is in good company. Tony Blair makes an unconvincing Tony Blair, for precisely those reasons.
Blair’s appearances have been fleeting enough of late, save for the well-rehearsed apologetics of the Chilcot Inquiry – will anyone mention the Chilcot Inquiry in the Prime Ministerial debate? – yet he haunts the stage as if there were a fourth podium, or perhaps a hobgoblin with a rictus grin and a glassy stare, whispering devilishly in the ear of each heir, ‘A force for good’ ....
No European leader of his generation spoke so unblushingly of good and evil. In this worldview, the US is a force for good, which is to say that Washington is worthy of love, actually. For the Prime Minister, this means making a conquest of the tenant of the White House, whoever that may be. Britain too is a force for good, naturally, and also the British Army. This is goodness militant. Tony was a true believer in the mission of the moment.
Does any of this survive him? Are any of the contenders prepared to talk in these terms? Of doing good in the world; of responsibilities to others (beyond stranded passengers); of humanitarian intervention; of bare-faced internationalism? Is liberal war a thing of the past, even among liberals, however perky and cosmopolitan they may be? Are there still causes worth breaking a lance for, out there in the world?
How do these three men in a boat see the world, and our place in it? Who will they talk to, internationally, and when? Who will they consort with? Do they care to pull their weight as a member of the EU, or they resigned to irrelevance? Are they prepared to say candidly what can be achieved in Afghanistan? What of the reckoning with the dark side of the war on terror – ‘extraordinary rendition’, ‘enhanced interrogation’ – torture? Will they commit to an independent inquiry on that?
And what of the lance, in our straitened circumstances? Among other great unmentionables, is the British ‘independent nuclear deterrent’, that threadbare totem, finally to be consigned to the dustbin of history? A strategic defence review is unavoidable. What direction should it take?#
Perhaps they have a haiku for us. In another tract for the times, Don DeLillo’s novel Point Omega, there is a character who wanted ‘a haiku war’ in Iraq: a war in three lines –
‘A great power has to act.
We were struck hard.
We need to retake the future.’
As it happens, haiku
The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, a famous Belgian, has just published a book of them (and genuine ones too, not like the bastardised versions above). Prime Ministerial candidates could surely manage one each.
Professor Alex Danchev