Sunday, May 13, 2007

The sun sets on Tony Blair

So Tony Blair has finally announced his retirement from 10 Downing Street.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings. He modernised the Labour Party, convincing me and many others that it was safe to vote for him. He was a pragmatist who was more concerned with "what worked" than with ideology (which explains why many in his party hated him).

He came to power with a huge majority, and had a strong mandate for change, yet he squandered it. Whilst he promised an awful lot, he was always better at "talking the talk" than "walking the walk".

He said he would be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", yet violent crime has spiralled out of control.

He promised welfare reform, but 10 years later, there are over 5 million people (one sixth of the workforce) who are not working and on benefits.

He promised no new taxes, yet we have had numerous tax hikes.

He came to power promising that his priority would be "education, education, education", but he has only been able to inject the feeblest of reforms, and only with the help of the Tories.

He said he would take Britain to the heart of Europe, and tried to reform the EU subsidies, but gave up Britain's rebate instead.

His government doubled spending on health with the aim of matching European spending, but our health service is falling apart at the seams, with little to show for the extra money.

We were promised an "integrated transport policy" yet the only transport that is working are the airlines. Ironically, it's the one part of the transport system that the government doesn't control.

On foreign policy it was a different story. He was in many ways a neo-conservative, believing that military action was sometimes necessary to bring about democratic change. He argued passionately for military intervention in Kosovo. The airstrikes that followed ultimately led to the toppling of Milosevic's regime. And in the days after 9/11, he articulated far better than Bush the threat the world was facing from Islamic extremism. (It was a mystery to many why he didn't take the threat to Britain more seriously). He backed George Bush on Iraq, and stuck to his guns, despite his unpopularity in Britain and within his own party. He had a quality that is rare in politicians these days, statesmanship. In some ways he was a British Shimon Peres, admired more abroad (particularly in America) than at home.

Tony Blair's biggest success of all has been the British economy. For the last ten years there has not been a single period of negative economic growth, this has never happened before. One of Labour's first acts in government was to cede control of interest rates to the Bank of England. By keeping their hands off the economy, Labour did a better job of running it. It's only a shame they didn't run the rest of the country in the same way.