The departure, too, was spun in classic New Labour, Dear Leader fashion. A carefully selected audience, a self-serving speech, the quivering lip and soon the dramaturgy was over. He had arrived at No 10 with a carefully orchestrated display of union flags. Patriotic fervour was also on show yesterday, with references to "this blessed country ... the greatest country in the world" - no mention of the McDonald's, Starbucks, Benetton that adorn every high street - nor of how Britain under his watch came to be seen in the rest of the world: a favourite attack dog in the imperial kennel.
Tony Blair's principal success was in winning three general elections in a row. A second-rate actor, he turned out to be a crafty and avaricious politician. Bereft of ideas, he eagerly grasped and tried to improve on Margaret Thatcher's legacy. But though in many ways Blair's programme has been a euphemistic, if bloodier, version of Thatcher's, the style of their departures is very different. Thatcher's overthrow by her fellow Conservatives was a matter of high drama. Blair makes his unwilling exit against a backdrop of car bombs and carnage in Iraq, with hundreds of thousands left dead or maimed from his policies, and London a prime target for terrorist attack. Thatcher's supporters described themselves afterwards as horror-struck by what they had done. Even some of Blair's greatest sycophants in the media confess to a sense of relief as he finally quits.
Blair was always loyal to the occupants of the White House. In Europe he preferred Aznar to Zapatero, Merkel to SchrÃƒÂ¶der, was seriously impressed by Berlusconi and, most recently, made no secret of his support for Sarkozy. He understood that privatisation and deregulation at home were part of the same mechanism as wars abroad.
If this judgment seems unduly harsh, let me quote Rodric Braithwaite, a former senior adviser to Blair, writing in the Financial Times on August 2 2006: "A spectre is stalking British television, a frayed and waxy zombie straight from Madame Tussaud's. This one, unusually, seems to live and breathe. Perhaps it comes from the CIA's box of technical tricks, programmed to spout the language of the White House in an artificial English accent ... Mr Blair has done more damage to British interests in the Middle East than Anthony Eden, who led the UK to disaster in Suez 50 years ago. In the past 100 years we have bombed and occupied Egypt and Iraq, put down an Arab uprising in Palestine and overthrown governments in Iran, Iraq and the Gulf. We can no longer do these things on our own, so we do them with the Americans. Mr Blair's total identification with the White House has destroyed his influence in Washington, Europe and the Middle East itself: who bothers with the monkey if he can go straight to the organ-grinder?"
This, too, is mild compared to what is privately said in the Foreign Office and MoD. Senior diplomats have told me it would not upset them too much if Blair were tried as a war criminal. But while neither Blair nor any of those who launched a war of aggression and occupation in Iraq have been held to account, a civil servant and MP's researcher were yesterday shamefully jailed for exposing some of the dealings between Bush and Blair that lay behind the war.
What this reveals is anger and impotence. There is no mechanism to get rid of a prime minister unless their party loses confidence. The Conservative leadership decided Thatcher had to go because of her negative attitude to Europe. Labour tends to be more sentimental towards its leaders, and in this case they owed so much to Blair that nobody wanted to be cast in the role of Brutus. In the end he decided to go himself. The disaster in Iraq had made him hated and support began to ebb. One reason for the slowness was that the country is without a serious opposition. In parliament, the Conservatives simply followed Blair. The Lib Dems were ineffective. Blair had summed up Britain's attitude to Europe at Nice in 2000: "It is possible, in our judgment, to fight Britain's corner, get the best out of Europe for Britain, and exercise real authority and influence in Europe. That is as it should be. Britain is a world power."
This grotesque fantasy that "Britain is a world power" is meant to justify that it will always be EU-UK. The real union is with Washington. France and Germany are seen as rivals for Washington's affections, not potential allies in an independent EU. The French decision to reintegrate themselves into Nato and pose as the most vigorous US ally was a structural shift which weakened Europe. Britain responded by encouraging a fragmented political order in Europe through expansion, and insisted on a permanent US presence there.
Blair's half-anointed successor, Gordon Brown, is more intelligent but politically no different. It is a grim prospect: an alternative politics - anti-war, anti-Trident, pro public services - is confined to the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales. Its absence nationally fuels the anger felt by substantial sections of the population, reflected in voting against those in power, or not voting at all.
Tariq Ali is the author of Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, Terror, London , firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2007 The Guardian/UK