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Mick Temple’s Blog

AND NOW…THE END IS NEAR

09-05-2007

Tony Blair is expected to announce his decision to step down tomorrow after more than 10 years as Prime Minister - so how will he be remembered? Our new blogger Mick Temple, a politics professor at Staffordshire University, weighs the evidence.

At last, our glorious leader is going. Blair’s time in office is over, the final date shortly to be announced. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, ritual suicides by acolytes, the Queen will fly the Palace flags at half mast … well, maybe not. But there will be thousands of column inches analyzing his legacy.

Inevitably there will be those who regard him as a great politician. Winning three elections in a row appears to support that, although Major, Hague and Howard were hardly notable scalps.

Equally inevitably, there will be those who will see nothing but Iraq and condemn him as a liar and an American poodle who placed Britain unnecessarily in the front-line of a worldwide ideological war. The fence-sitters (and most academics) will argue that the ‘truth’ lies somewhere between those two extremes.

But as we’re talking about his legacy let’s try and see what that harsh judge, history, will make of him.

In 1997 he surfed into office on a tide of goodwill from the British people. We wanted him to be different, to be the ‘pretty straight sort of guy’ he told us he was. Trust me, he said.

Tony was young, fresh, dynamic, charismatic, almost everything a leader should be in the television age. But he lacked one essential characteristic of a great leader - the courage to challenge vested interests and established forces and fundamentally change our society for the better.

All of his reforms and initiatives have been half-baked. Ten years on, and we still don’t know what shape the House of Lords will finally take. Local government is even more arcane now than it was in 1997.

Successive education ministers have introduced their own reforms, each one requiring yet more ill-considered change and driving another stake into the hearts and confidence of our much maligned teachers.

Blair was a liberal shadow Home Secretary, yet his prime ministerial legacy is a more authoritarian state, exemplified by the new Ministry of Justice.

How did such an Orwellian sounding concept get past the spin doctors?

Ah -spin, the curse of trust. Blair’s reliance on spin suited New Labour in opposition but once in government, Alastair Campbell’s obsessive attempts to set the media agenda merely added to the impression that the party was more concerned with appearances than with substance.

A continuing failure to tackle fundamental issues in key policy areas highlighted their basic timidity. Getting and holding on to office became his government’s driving force and along the way we lost our trust in Blair.

Okay, his reign has been better than some. Relative economic prosperity for the majority, a Freedom of Information Act, an apparent resolution in Northern Ireland - John Major would have killed for just one such success.

But in his own words, Tony Blair told us he would lead one of the ‘great, radical reforming governments of our history’. History’s judgement will be that he failed.

And Iraq will be his Suez.

Agree with Mick? Leave a comment in the Ten Years of Blair thread on our Message Board.
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