[This article appeared in the Daily Mail]
The British people understand what politicians and diplomats euphemistically refer to as ‘realpolitik’. They accept that sometimes their leaders have to sit down with the most appalling despots, to sup with the devil as it were, for the greater good of the country. It was in 2004 that Tony Blair met Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and struck his famous deal in the desert.
The British people accepted back then that it was necessary to try to bring the murderous dictator in from the cold, to persuade him to renounce terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and to provide the West with intelligence on terror in return for British investment in Libya.
Having reported from inside Libya on a number of occasions, I was only too aware of Gaddafi’s appalling record as a torturing tyrant, as well as how terrified domestic opponents were of his rule.
Even so, I had no doubt that we had to deal with him — a view that was reaffirmed in a conversation I had with the then Home Office minister Mike O’Brien, a genuine and straight-forward Labour politician who was part of the delegation that flew to Gaddafi’s Bedouin tent in the desert.
But what may have begun with good intentions on Tony Blair’s part has since turned into a grotesque and self-serving exercise in which the former Prime Minister clearly crossed the line from constructive engagement and indulged in a sychophantic and, yes, immoral courtship of the dictator and his family.
At the weekend, it was revealed in letters and emails from war-torn Tripoli that Mr Blair held secret talks with Gaddafi in the months before the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in 2009 — which strongly suggests that he was working on behalf of the Libyan regime to get the bomber released, although he denies any such thing.
Mr Blair was flown twice to Libya on Gaddafi’s private jet just as the bloodthirsty tyrant was threatening to cut all business ties with Britain if al-Megrahi wasn’t released.
On one of these occasions, Mr Blair had the audacity to take with him a billionaire Texas businessman who wanted to discuss a beach resort deal. Perish the thought that he might have spotted the chance of making a commission from the deal, thereby topping up the multi-million fortune he has accumulated since leaving office.
One letter from Mr Blair to Gaddafi says: ‘I was particularly interested in what you said about the fund that will be dedicated to projects in Africa, since you know I am doing a lot of work there and know of good, worthwhile projects for investment.’
The former Prime Minister then boasts: ‘I also raised some of our conversation with President Bush and would be very happy to let you know how those talks went.’
The extent of Tony Blair’s fawning behaviour to the Gaddafi family is as embarrassing as it has been damaging to Britain’s international standing and to our relationship with the U.S., which is furious at the release of the Lockerbie bomber.
Only two weeks ago, other letters emerged in Tripoli from Mr Blair to the tyrant and his family. In one of them, dated December 28, 2006, and beginning ‘Dear Muammar’, he flourishes the Arabic salutation ‘Eid mubarak’.
In another, he writes gushingly to ‘Engineer Saif’ — Gaddafi’s playboy son Saif al-Islam now accused of war crimes — thanking him for sending him a copy of his ‘interesting’ London School of Economics thesis.
Saif’s thesis was actually a work of plagiarism; he wrote it while at the LSE, an institution stuffed to the gunwales with Mr Blair’s favourite academics and whose reputation has been irreparably tarnished because it accepted huge sums of Gaddafi’s tainted cash.
As a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee and editor of the Left-wing Tribune newspaper, I was never at ease with Tony Blair’s leadership of the party. And as his premiership went on, I became increasingly alarmed at his almost messianic belief in himself.
On occasions he has drifted into parody, as he did while dressed in white robes at the baptism of his god-daughter, Rupert Murdoch’s second daughter, Grace, on the banks of the River Jordan.
As Labour leader, he showed a deep ignorance of history and an utter disdain for Parliament.
His forays into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq proved disastrous, yet he was unaccountably made a peace envoy in 2007 working on behalf of the so-called Quartet — the U.S., Russia, the UN and the EU.
And at least one of the letters arranging the meetings with Gaddafi in 2008 and 2009 was written on notepaper headed Office of the Quartet Representative, Mr Blair’s title as a Middle East peace envoy.
What the letters and emails now emerging from Tripoli show is that, at the very least, Mr Blair demonstrated seriously flawed judgment as peace envoy, giving every impression that he struck a Faustian bargain over the release of the Lockerbie bomber in return for vast oil drilling rights for companies such as BP.
Indeed, Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, said: ‘Mr Blair is clearly using his Downing Street contacts to further his business interests.’
The fact that he was prepared to accept free flights from the despot who supplied the IRA with weapons for decades and condoned the Lockerbie bombing and the murder of WPc Yvonne Fletcher’s outside the Libyan embassy in London should immediately disqualify him from continuing in the role.
Surely this is a role for an international statesman of repute, a figure such as the former deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and former Foreign Office minister, Lord Malloch-Brown.
Ever since leaving office, Tony Blair has attempted a high-wire act, juggling his peace envoy role with cash-making on an obscene scale. It is something that should be ringing serious alarms bells with Labour’s new leader, Ed Miliband.
Mr Miliband has spent the past year attempting to throw off some of the shackles of the Blair years. He now has to use his keynote speech at Labour’s Conference in Liverpool in barely a week’s time to exorcise the ghost of Blair and Blairism once and for all.
For the former Prime Minister is becoming a serious embarrassment to the party.
In recent weeks we have heard claims that Britain was engaged in ‘extraordinary rendition’ of terrorist suspects to Libya when Mr Blair was in Number 10, and — most shocking of all — that details of opponents of the Gaddafi regime who had fled to this country to escape persecution were handed over to the Libyan authorities.
This kind of activity has seriously compromised our intelligence services.
The Labour Party I joined at the age of 15 used to be a party of principle, a party that put helping the poor before stuffing one’s pockets.
Under Tony Blair’s authoritarian grip, it became a party distanced from its roots and one which blemished the name of Britain.
An almost casual amorality permeated its upper reaches, and the result was the loss of nearly five million Labour voters at the last general election.
What’s more, those voters did not know what we know now about Blair and Gaddafi. Which makes it all the more crucial that Mr Miliband excises what the former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev famously called ‘the cult of personality’ in a speech that cast Joseph Stalin into the outer darkness more than half a century ago.
Tony Blair is no Joseph Stalin, but his predilection for sucking up to despots has one wondering whether he might be knocking on the door of ‘Uncle Joe’ for cosy chats if he were still around.