Of all the Knights of the Round Table, Sir Agravain was described as “arrogant and full of evil words.” He joined together with Mordred to betray Lancelot and Guinevere. Perhaps it was this precedent that the current queen had in mind when she decided to honour Tony Blair with the Order of the Garter, the most exclusive knighthood in the country.
It is an award that sent shockwaves across New Year’s Eve gatherings throughout Britain as the news of Sir Tony of Kabul’s ennoblement spread. The year 2021 was, after all, the year of decisive defeat for the Western powers in Afghanistan, 20 years after Blair helped launch the war there.
Today around eight million Afghans are on the edge of starvation and face a particularly bleak winter, in large part because of the freezing of aid and assets by the same Western powers.
The Chilcot inquiry in 2016 demonstrated former British prime minister Tony Blair’s culpability in launching the illegal war in Iraq. The man’s complete refusal to face reality led him to launch a lengthy press conference on the same day, full of self-justification and where he announced that he would do it all again faced with the same choices.
He has never shown one iota of remorse for his actions, and for the lies told about “weapons of mass destruction”. Instead, he has justified every war and military intervention since. He should be on trial at The Hague rather than parading the medieval trappings of wealth and power.
The decision is a kick in the teeth for all those who lost loved ones, all those who were killed or injured, all those made refugees. The millions of people who opposed the Iraq War in this country were drawn from all sections of society, including the trade union movement, the Muslim community, people of every race and nationality. The movement organised the largest demonstration ever in British history — all were ignored as Blair determined to go to war.
Given the size of the protests, United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even phoned his British counterpart, suggesting that Britain could sit out any active part in the war. But Blair was determined. He is responsible for the consequences.
The anger about this award is palpable, with a hastily launched petition to rescind it on change.org already at over 200,000 signatures. Yet establishment figures are rushing to defend it. House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said that all prime ministers should receive it, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer congratulated Blair.
The honours system is in itself a symptom of the rottenness of British politics. Despite throwing a few sops to working people, it is an institutionalised series of rewards for the rich and powerful, based on worship of monarchy and nostalgia for empire. The award of knighthoods and peerages to big businessmen, property developers, Tory Party donors and superannuated MPs is as nauseating as it is corrupt.
So there are very good reasons to oppose all honours and any serious democracy would do so — but of course would also abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords. The honouring of Blair is particularly gross even in this context, precisely because he is not just another extremely rich former politician. He is identified with one of the greatest political and humanitarian disasters of the 21st century and should be held to account for that.
Blair is not, however, in any danger of being estranged from the establishment. He refused a peerage when he stopped being prime minister in 2007, presumably because he was not particularly interested in Parliament and because he did not want to be bound by any possible accountability.
He has made himself extremely rich in the intervening years. He has not, however, managed to restore his damaged reputation. This is despite regular fawning interviews with the BBC and his attempts to intervene in public debates over issues such as vaccination.
The Garter is a means, he hopes, of helping to restore his personal and political fortunes. It won’t, because far from making him look better, it makes the honours system — and the Establishment behind it — look even worse.
At a time of declining support for government, travails of the monarchy round Prince Andrew, and a growing awareness of the need to fight back on a range of fronts, the honour to Blair is a big mistake.
The Stop the War Coalition was formed 20 years ago to oppose his policies — and we continue to do so. We will protest at this grotesque award in the name of the Iraqis, the Afghans, the families who lost soldiers, the refugees and victims of these and subsequent wars. He has blood on his hands.
[Reprinted from stopwar.org.uk.]