I feel very mixed up emotionally about the finality of the news.
I was never a Blairite, I voted for Margaret Becket for Leader and was very active in the Defend Clause IV campaign after his election (I wanted to save the committment to the "social, political and economic emancipation of the people of the world" which was part V of Clause IV).
Then I started working for the party and I met him lots of times and he was always perfectly charming. I have watched on countless occasions while he has had his ear chewed off by people who wanted to give him a piece of their mind and he was always courteous and dignified. I sat with him on the NEC for over a year and heard him explain patiently over and over again why he had made certain decisions that he had.
I came to respect him and to trust and believe that even if I did not always agree with him I could see that he acted out of a genuine belief in the rightness of his argument and conviction. I dont believe he was a liar. Not about Iraq or anything else. I can see how one can say that presented with the information he had one would have taken a different tack. But I dont believe he had a blood lust for war that meant that he deliberately falsified papers to justify this.
His experience at that time, in Bosnia and Sierra Leone would have shown him that a short burst of military action could result in a stable peace. I believe he thought this would happen again in Iraq.
I think he steered the LP and the country through some great initiatives (via his Secretaries of States and their Ministerial teams.) I recall managing a petrol station in 1995 where the staff were on £2.60 an hour and having to supplement their meagre income with benefits. I remember security guards across the country were on £1 per hour and had to provide their own uniforms and dogs. That is not such a long time ago and inflation has been held right down by the efforts of TBs chosen Chancellor, so that £1 would not be a great deal more now if it were not for the minimum wage.
I recall the horror of the Manchester bomb and the Warrington bomb and the Omagh bomb, violence continue to rumble on over the Northern Ireland/Eire problems, right through the early 1990s.
Now at last there is a peace, and one in which the two most extreme sides of the argument have been able to come together and move forward together. That is a miracle, a total miracle. I recall one annual Party Conference, 1999 in Bournemouth where we had Gerry Adams and his entourage in one part of the building and David Trimble and his entourage in another part of the building and we had to keep them apart, me leading Gerry round the back corridors of the conference centre, on the walky talky to my colleague leading David Trimble round the front corridors. It is beyond imagination that we have come so far on this and I believe it has happened because Tony Blair never ever stopped talking about it and working on it and tackling it and pushing the politicians to sort it out.
I think about the advances in equality of opportunity that this Government has made with him at the helm. Gay young men allowed to have sex at 16, like their straight counterparts, gay men and women allowed to adopt children, allowed to join the armed services. People who have been through sex changes allowed to change their birth certificates to reflect this. Civil Registrations held in Register Officers with flowers and witnesses and proper rights for the new partners. No more having to give up death-bed medical decisions to distant members of family instead of live-in partners, no more disinheritance. It is now a crime to discriminate against old people or young people. It is now a crime to discrimate against people because of their religion. Real action to tackle institutionalised racism in the Police Force. The introduction of the DDA which has in my HR experience made a big difference to people at work as well as helping them to access public services. I am sure I have forgotten lots of things, this was a quick rush through the equality agenda.
The concentration on lifting world debt in African countries and the promise to boost spending on international aid to 0.7%.
The genuine fight against Anti-Social Behaviour, finally recognising something very uncomfortable to the Labour Party for decades, that the victims are our people as well as the culprits and we cannot sit by and see their lives ruined.
I could go on but my lunch time has come to an end
Critics and those who hate him will never change their mind, whatever I say, but I just wanted to say, on behalf of all the people who have asked me to let you know this, thank you very much.