No, don’t bring back Blair

Tony Blair’s appearance at the Iraq inquiry was a blast from the past that ought to stay there. It prompted no wistful thoughts of the maestro staging a comeback to rescue the Assembly again. Not that I sympathise for a second with any revisionist thinking that he made a terrible mistake in drawing Sinn Fein into a new political system. I rate his “acts of completion speech” his best ever.

Whatever guarantees we need to give that we will implement the Agreement, we will. Whatever commitment to the end we all want to see, of a normalised Northern Ireland, I will make. But we cannot carry on with the IRA half in, half out of this process. Not just because it isn’t right any more. It won’t work anymore.

On form Blair wasn’t merely theatrical. He once had an uncanny knack of capturing an idea whose time has come. Some people will draw a contrast between his waging war on Saddam and appeasement of the IRA. Was it that Blair had changed or that the circumstances were entirely different? Before the Chilcot inquiry he was clear about the distinction.

For those of us who dealt with the IRA – and I don’t want to minimise it, each act was wicked and wrong and to be deplored – the terrorism the IRA was engaged in was directed towards a political purpose – maybe unjustified – but it was in a certain framework you could understand. The point about (9/11) was that if they could have killed 30,000 (instead of 3,000) they would have…. This changed the calculus of risk.”

Is he right to credit our paramilitaries with natural restraint rather than limited capacity? Blair was well established in office when the Twin Towers were attacked. He and the rest of us were perhaps lucky that he came to power at a time when the IRA were amenable to renewing the ceasefire although still prepared to strike. This was a natural negotiation moment. I wonder how Blair would have handled the collapse of 1969, the emergence of the armed insurgency and the communal violence that accompanied it? Would he have incanted: “you mustn’t give in to to terrorism, it’s the right thing to do” and acted accordingly?

At the inquiry Blair repeated the old warrior’s error of fighting the last war instead of the next one. The most worrying part of his “2010 vision ” was not his hypothetical belief that a Saddam left alone might be in a position today to impose a nuclear blackmail. It was that Blair would be prepared to do it all again to Iran. He’s a great one for reading across lessons that don’t directly apply, from al Qaida to Iraq and now to Iran. What a relief he wasn’t around to give into the temptation of treating Northern Ireland as the first of Blair’s just wars.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London