AbstractAlthough now overshadowed by the attack on Afghanistan, Tony Blair’s conference speech was clearly some sort of seminal moment. But what sort and how should we understand it? While Polly Toynbee saw it as the speech of Blair’s lifetime, articulating a coherent and convincing passion for justice and equality, Hywel Williams asked us to ‘pause to whiff the smell of the moral gunboat’, denouncing the speech as the most hubristic delivered by any British prime minister elected in the 20th century. Adulation and denunciation are always an inherent part of politics but perhaps, even at this stage, a little more can be managed by way of analysis. It was of course a leader’s speech at a party conference – a party that has always had a significant anti-war fraction. So perhaps in part the speech was designed to assuage their concerns. But it was clearly intended as much more than that. It was a major speech addressed to an international audience on the eve of military action by the United States and it allies supported by an unsteady and uncertain international coalition. Very good reasons not to take it seriously the cynic might say. Yet this was a speech that was not just full of the platitudes and homilies usually delivered at moments of crisis. They were there, certainly, but so too were substance and intent, including a vision of how the world could/should be re-ordered. In the light of the military action it would be all too easy to ignore the wider political and ethical issues within which Blair framed this speech. But whatever happens in the short term these issues remain crucial for anyone concerned with global society and the future structuring of global governance.
Stammers, Neil (2003) Tony's Vision: Vices and Virtues. The Global Site, 2003 (08/02).