First, an admission: I like Tony Blair. A lot. Despite Iraq.
He might grin too widely and tan too easily. He might be a little too fond of soundbites and speaking fees. But, eight years after leaving Downing Street, he is still the biggest beast in British politics – a persuasive pragmatist who still makes me think the world can be a better place. Yes, despite Iraq.
David Cameron might mimic his hand gestures, but he’d give his right arm for Tony’s common touch.
Blair’s charms and inward palms failed to win over the Israelis and Palestinians during a tricky stint as the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, so now he’s taken on another tough gig – chairman of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, which aims to make Holocaust denial illegal.
This is Tony’s most hopelessly misguided policy since, well, Iraq.
It is misguided for three reasons. First, people have every right to be outed as idiots. They should be free to say that fish ride bikes, Qatar is an appropriate World Cup host and the Holocaust never happened. Others react accordingly. Think that guy on the bus. Or Katie Hopkins.
The village idiot has always been treated as such, even now, when the village is a billion Twitter users. But criminalising stupidity? Where does that end?
Second, free speech is too damned important. Mess with it at your peril.
Hitler denied virtually every freedom, but he started with free speech. Silencing opinion, no matter how obscene, is the first step on a perilous road.
Third, Tony’s way off-target. He’s fighting the wrong fight. Flat-out Holocaust deniers are few and febrile. These days, they tend to wear red trousers and tweed jackets and stare oddly into the middle-distance.
Think of goons such as Nick Griffin or oafs like David Irving. Granted, Holocaust denial is still rampant throughout the Muslim world, where it is often seen alongside Jewish plans for world domination (ah, those), but in countries where Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion isn’t a bestseller, you have to work harder to get an audience.
Flat out Holocaust denial is so last century. Instead, Tony should focus on the Holocaust blurrers. They’re a whole different kettle of bike-riding fish.
To their credit, the Jew haters are really upping their game. A new breed have realised they’ve got to get smarter to undermine mankind’s darkest hour.
So instead of downplaying or denying hard facts, the 2015 Revisionists’ Guidebook recommends drawing equivalence and false comparison. So, yes, the Nazis were bad. Yes, they didn’t like Jews. Yes, it was a bad thing that lots were killed. But did they really build gas chambers and kill six million? Really?
And anyway, look at Israel’s Nazi-like tactics towards the Palestinians. Look at the genocide in Gaza. Isn’t that as bad? Isn’t it? Just asking…” Why deny the Holocaust against the Jews when you can use the Holocaust against the Jews? You can almost hear Goebbels cheer.
This pseudo-academic ‘Yes, but…’ stuff, rife on social media whenever Israel hits the headlines, is the new clear and present intolerance Blair should be worrying about. That’s no small task. It’s tricky spotting the difference between a wilful misreading of history and honest ignorance.
Holocaust blurring now tops many militant agendas, including those of some student unions. London’s Goldsmiths rejected Holocaust Memorial Day for being “Eurocentric and colonialist”; the pro-life movement compared Nazi genocide with abortion; and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals juxtaposed images of Jews in concentration camps on animals in factory farms to claim meat represents a “Holocaust on your plate”.
So, Tony, this from a fan: don’t squander your talents silencing jokers and fools and trampling over free speech. Tackle the distorters instead – those hell-bent on bending history and poisoning the well of rational thought.
Let the rest say fish ride bikes.
• First published at www.independent.co.uk