Tony Blair’s despair – a study of a picture that paints a thousand words

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    2nd March 2010


    Photograph by Dan Chung – Referenced at The Guardian – if this is the right Mr Chung!

    Tony Blair at his lowest ebb, 2004, as the Iraq war repercussions and Brown and allies close in for the kill. (Pic: Dan Chung)

    Click here to open and then right click to save above picture in a separate window

    Andrew Rawnsley’s full excerpt – “How the bloody anarchy of Iraq broke the spirit of Tony Blair”


    I must have gathered hundreds of pictures of Tony Blair over the last few years. I’ve never seen one like this.  No matter how they try I doubt even his most vehement of enemies could describe his spirit here as anything other than “broken”.  Since his traducers often seem to be the sort of vile people who delight in another’s misfortune they will likely take some comfort from that. The depth of his inner turmoil is in his eyes. Accuse me of typical Blair hankering sentimentality if you will – I prefer human empathy – but I have never seen his usually sparkling and laughing eyes mirroring a troubled soul in this dark way. Never. And I have seen a lot of pictures of this man.


    In this picture from 2004 he is utterly, devastatingly, undeniably deeply despondent. Despair and the hopelessness of his situation are clear for all to see. He seems overtaken by a sense of futility and defeat.

    As time passes it is possible that we will uncover even more reasons that this picture was such a true expression of his innermost thoughts and feelings at the time, and why it portrays a period so pivotal and excruciatingly painful for many.  Some will never be convinced that this man was more sinned against than sinning (King Lear).  I believe that says more about the naysayers than it does about Blair.


    Andrew Rawnsley uses this picture of an all but dead-eyed Blair in a one and a half page spread on the offline version of his excerpt from his book “The End of The Party”. As I sat listening to some relaxing jazz on Sunday afternoon I glanced through another listener’s hard copy of The Observer. I opened at pages 32/33 and saw this picture, twice life-sized.  Believe me it is even more striking at its fully reproduced size of  17 inches x 11 (42 cms x 27).

    I even found myself breaking the onliners’ custom of recent years. I popped to the local shop and bought a copy. The newspaper version of this picture might even end up in a frame hanging above my desk. Just in case one day I’m tempted to think Brown wasn’t such a bastard after all.


    Rawnsley exclaims in his headline that Blair ‘s broken spirit was due to the Iraq war and its aftermath. It surely was partly, if not largely that. But I think there was more to it than just the slow progress in resolving the war. There were at least two other influencing factors, both of which led to further factors still which raged against his ability to cope for at least some of this difficult time.


    Gordon Brown, Blair’s chancellor for ALL of his time as PM, had never forgiven Blair for becoming the party’s leader ahead of him, the senior of the two. The chancellor’s frustration was compounded by Blair’s evident unwillingness to pass over the party and country’s leadership uncontested to Brown as if by right (despite, it is said, an earlier agreement so to do.)

    As Blair continued to work with the neighbour from hell, the man whose every waking moment seemed obsessed with the idea of removing from office our elected prime minister in order that he could take his place – his rightful and deserved place – something became clear to Blair.  His expected successor was not made of the right stuff for the land’s highest civilian position. Unless Brown proves us all wrong in the next few months and wins by his own merit or perhaps even by default, since he is lacking strong enough Tory opposition, Blair will have been proved right in this assessment.


    Our press, the British press, are arguably just about the biggest obstacle to any real understanding of the issues of political leadership, war, peace, diplomacy, international relationships, threats from dictatorial fundamentalism, inter-relationships… ad infinitum.

    They are, imho, the most vitriolic press in the western world.

    Tony Blair, as the leader of an elected government might have expected and should have received the full support of this country in his battle against tyranny. Instead we had the mad right – The Mail and the BNP – palling up with the equally mad left – the anti-war nut cases and the Independent to name but one viewspaper, in order to denounce him and his integrity and motives. They are still doing it today.

    With a more supportive team in cabinet and parliament, particularly the then chancellor, and even a semi-supportive press, I doubt if he would ever have come to this low point. And I believe he would still be Prime Minister today, as he should be.

    It wasn’t just Iraq that “did for him”. It was also the combined weight of the political pygmies and armchair newsprint editors threateningly crowding in on him with scarcely hidden and ultimately effective political agendas.

    In the end they were wrong. Blair was right.

    Read more of ‘How the bloody anarchy of Iraq broke the spirit of Tony Blair’

    In this exclusive extract from The End of the Party, a richly detailed history of Labour in government since 2001, the Observer’s chief political commentator, Andrew Rawnsley, discloses how Tony Blair became so demoralised in the spring of 2004 as Iraq descended into chaos that he almost quit Downing Street. Meanwhile, a seething Gordon Brown waited in the wings.

    Andrew Rawnsley was interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning – Video excerpt – (3m 20s)
    Transcript of the entire Rawnsley/Marr interviewRELATED

    Also reported here:
    Paul Waugh is reading ahead – looking for the scandal – I love this bit. Wonder if anyone will deny this?

    ‘The day after he was elected in 1997, Blair said to Cab Sec Sir Richard Wilson: “I’m going to tell you something you won’t like. I’ve got to tell you that I want to move John Prescott to the Cabinet Office”. A bewildered Wilson asked “What’s he going to do?” Blair shrugged and replied: “You’ll think of something”. (Page 10).
    What a pity the Cabinet Secretary was so useless. My copy of Mr Rawnsley’s book is still in the post. When it arrives I might add my own choice sections.

    See Julie’s report on the breaking of Blair’s spirit.

    Thought I’d try working on this picture to see if I could adjust the contrast or light saturation. Always safer to show both eyes, since his insane opponents and conspirators united are bound to assume his other eye is laughing.  Sorry, this is the best I could do – and even with sharper contrast it doesn’t really help . Still makes me feel miserable to see what we allowed to happen to real leadership in this country. We’re all human, even politicians.

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    4 Responses to “Tony Blair’s despair – a study of a picture that paints a thousand words”

    1. margaret walters Says:

      There was also an impasse in NI at this time and he was also suffering from his heart trouble. And there was the hutton inquiry and the press over that. No wonder he looks so despaired. Any one of those could drive a man to despair never mind all of them, after all he is human. It is surprising he wasn’t thrown over the edge by this and the press have a lot to do with his state then.

      • keeptonyblairforpm Says:

        Good points, Margaret. His health must have worried him and his family – he had two hospital stays over this. And the Hutton Inquiry and the ongoing NI issues would not have made things any easier.

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