Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy Anniversary

Daniela Balazova, a Slovakian Journalist for Pravda contacted me a couple of days ago and asked some questions about the Blair legacy, what would be his major achievements, the things he would be remembered for. I found it a really tough question. I remember the euphoria of 10 years ago, the sense of a new beginning, but it is hard to say what that was the beginning of apart from a period of government by essentially two men. Looking for inspiration one can find Blair lovers or haters, but finding dispassionate overviews of his premiership is tricky. There are a range of academic texts on Blair himself, his impact, achievements, his failures, and his search for a legacy; the latter arguing that his, like every political career, has ended in failure.

But what can we remember Blair for, he is the second longest serving prime minister of the twentieth century, the longest serving Labour prime minister, will his only achievement be getting Labour into power and keeping them there? Was he hampered by the long-term stability of the economy, stability may be very good but it is not very memorable. Will he be remembered for reshaping politics across Britain, The Assemblies, Mayors are all part of the Blair legacy; yet the House of Lords seems far too similar to be described as truly reformed. What about Northern Ireland, or should we see him finishing a process begun by John Major? Is that all that we can look at and say, Blair did that?

No, and of course there are the negatives. Blair may always be associated with introducing spin to government, though this is not true. But spin became the millstone that both dominated media coverage and government communication; it also had a major impact on trust in politicians generally. Then there are the foreign policy adventures still being played out in Afghanistan and Iraq, how will history record these one can only wonder. Will he be seen as having been a 'force for good' or a 'force for bad'?

Will Blair be remembered as a man with ideas, though without either the enthusiasm or resources to put them into action. Looking at the early pamphlets on New Britain, there was a lot of ideas about the future of society, will these be remembered charitably and the excuse made that the grand designs all got washed away by the tide of real politik. Or will Blair's Labour be assessed as being too obsessed with regaining power, then finding they had it that they did not really know what to do. Or will the final assessment be that Blair was a very competent manager. The economy has been managed well, it seems, the public services are ticking along, some problems but they are no worse. Could that be the key achievement? If Blair had been a bit quieter, less obsessed with his image and what the media were saying, perhaps few would have noticed his time in government at all. Can we imagine people just acknowledging the silent managers in the background and getting on with their lives without giving the individuals in power a second thought.

History is no leader's friend, there is always a negative reading of every career. But it is interesting as the many books roll off the shelves and the many newspaper editorials comment on Blair today on his 10th Anniversary, or on the day he finally leaves No. 10, what the final reading will be. What really is our perception of Blair as leader? What would the ordinary man in the street point to and say that was Blair's great achievement, or would the man in the street simply point to a failure (or perceived failure) and say that is symbolic of Blair's rule.

Anecdotally, I asked a few students this morning. The abiding image they had was the millennium dome, why that I asked. "Exciting at first, now just an ugly, useless thing we don't know what to do with". Not a scientifically collected opinion, but one hell of a soundbite! Is that the legacy though? Is that it after 10 years in power? If so, why and where did it all go wrong? Is it that public expectations were too high, or that Blair's New Labour aimed too low? How will history judge Tony Blair?


Blair for President said...

So bringing freedom to Afghanistan and Iraq will mean nothing to historians - what crap!!

Darren G. Lilleker said...

In the words of Donovan Leitch, poet, lyricist and folk singer: "freedom is a word I rarely use without thinking"!

But the question is, will historians judge that he brought freedom to these nations, or just civil war. Too soon to tell. And, independent of support (or not) for Blair, how will mainstream history and public opinion judge him in say 10 years time. It may no longer be fashionable to hate him, but will his legacy be better?

By the way, President of what - ICI, Burundi, The Hands Off Iraq Society?