It was twenty years ago today………. No I am not referring to the opening line of the Beatles classic, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but to a milestone in British political history, namely the twentieth anniversary of one Tony Blair becoming Leader of the Labour Party.
In 1994 times were certainly a lot different politically for the Labour Party and many aspects of domestic and foreign policy in Britain.
For the Labour Party, 1994, represented a time when Labour were still painfully slowly trying to reform themselves from the party that had lost four general elections in a row and had become almost politically irrelevant into. They needed to be a new and dynamic electoral force.
In the aftermath of the untimely death of their likeable Leader John Smith, stepped up a young, ambitious and very talented politician to inherit the Labour leadership, Tony Blair. The rest as they say, is history, but twenty years on what kind of legacy did Blair leave for Labour and for Britain?
Blair – the legacy for Labour
Tony Blair had the vision to realise that Margaret Thatcher had extinguished socialism or ‘old Labour’ for want of a better phrase and that the British people would never go back to voting for that. He crafted a vision and a programme for government based on new thinking, a third way, linking up the best of the left and right policies in a radical push for the centre ground. In doing so, he made Labour credible and much more important electable.
Blair successes, apart from making Labour electable and winning an unprecedented three general elections in a row for Labour were inter alia; ten years of strong economic growth, record investment in public services, the introduction of the minimum wage, the resolution of the bitter and bloody sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland and successful intervention to halt the potential slaughter in Kosovo.
Blair - the legacy for Britain
But twenty years on is Tony Blair regarded in British political history as one of our most successful Prime Ministers? No, is the simple answer. It is sad to say that despite all of the efforts I’ve set out (and years of service), Blair today is a dirty word at best within some elements of the Labour Party and worse, hated. Within the wider country, he is often dismissed as being a war mongering former Prime Minister and money grabbing opportunist on the international lecture circuit. Harsh isn’t it.
So where did it all go wrong for his reputation? Domestically, Labour’s open door immigration policy from 2001 onwards has started to show itself in recent years. The cultural and social landscape of many communities up and down the country have started to change so much that the indigenous population are beginning to feel like foreigners in their own land. More significantly, they are starting to look very carefully at where all of this began and worked out it can be traced back to Tony Blair and his governments.
Blair – a man defined by the Invasion of Iraq
I suspect the great stain on Tony Blair’s reputation is the decision to invade Iraq in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. It has a had a lasting effect on foreign policy (remember the public reaction to possible Syrian intervention) and I’m afraid trust in politicians, although this can not be put squarely at Blair’s door.
Whether the criticisms of Tony Blair are right or wrong is a matter for debate amongst my fellow countrymen and women. But one thing is clear, Blair is still a very talented and capable politician with a lot to give and who seems to be looking to find a role. Yes, he has flirted with becoming the President of Europe and he has taken on the role of Middle-East envoy to the dismay of many people, but Blair is too young to quit politics. He was too quickly booted out of the Labour leadership in my view, although many would disagree with me. But I still think Labour would have performed better at the 2010 election with Blair than they did with Gordon Brown.
The Future for Tony Blair?
Well to be honest, only he knows that, but British politics would be poorer if he stopped contributing to our day to day political debate. I'm not dismissing the controversy, but I hope one day he can be accepted by the British people as one of our better Prime Ministers and as Lord Blair serving in a future Labour Government? Politics is a very strange business, so you never know, he may just become fashionable again.