Blair’s victory

May 13, 2008 at 9:31 am | Posted in British Politics, New Labour | 1 Comment
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Where’s Tony? wonders one-time courtesan Robert Harris. At a time when his party is in peril and his legacy’s in danger of being plundered by a PR man, why would he be content to watch from the sidelines as the New Labour project he built and sustained (and which quickly collapsed once he’d resigned) faces a hideous battering that could put Labour out of power for a decade?

This existential crisis for the government, which is so much bigger than Brown’s awkward personality, may be flattering to our former prime minister, and awash with the most exquisite schadenfreude. But in the long run the man whose reputation is really going to suffer by the disintegration of the New Labour project is Blair. For despite the great debits racked up under his leadership – the calamity of the Iraq war, the loss of nerve over the Euro – there was always one great historic credit in the account book: his restoration of Labour as a natural party of government.

I’m not so sure about this. I suspect that when Blair looks at his reign abstractly, he’ll consider his domestic legacy to be the combining of free-market Thatcherism with a re-establishment of public services as a national necessity. In this sense his legacy is probably assured: no matter who wins the election two years from now, it’s not going to be achieved by repudiating Thatcherism or by abandoning the NHS. His potential successors would also find it tough to abolish the minimum wage, Surestart, city academies and foundation hospitals. Whilst these reforms might be eroded by the Tories over the long-term, they couldn’t be erased overnight.

So Blair probably thinks he’s been victorious and his domestic agenda will be vindicated. As for the party he once represented, I imagine he just doesn’t really care.


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  1. Given the Conservative’s informal coalition with the government over trust schools and academies, and their conscious flirtation with Swedish school vouchers, and also considering the major Conservative criticism of foundation hospitals was that they did not go far enough, I think Blair has a lot less to fear from the opposition when it comes to his legacy than he does from his own party…

    It’s terrible to contemplate, but perhaps a Cameron premiership’s acceleration of the public service and welfare “reform” agendas would begin to convince Labour MPs in a way that left-wing and Liberal protests did not, that despite Co-operative Party enthusiasm, Blair’s changes had les to do with empowerment and mutualism than they did with the need to reach out to private firms because of the financial straight-jacket New Labour inflicted on itself with the refusal to raise taxes on those most able to pay, or to tackle the continuing problem of tax evasion.

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