Thursday, 10 May 2007

The end of an era..and the start of another

Today seems, with Tony Blair having announced his 27 June departure from Downing Street, an apt day to begin my new blog. His announcement is of course one which has been long coming, but it's still enough to sadden Blairites like myself. Everyone knows he doesn't want to go yet, and the biggest mistake he made was to announce his intention not to seek a fourth term of office - that's where all the problems of the past couple of years stem from.

Still, we have reason to celebrate and to be proud. I remember very little about the day of the first of three successive Labour election victories - for me, renditions of 'Things Can Only Get Better' are just a combination of tiny snippets of my memory as a nine year old and ideas I guess I've put together since, based on what I've watched and read of late. But the past ten years have without doubt been a huge success for this Labour government and, by default, the Labour movement as a whole. We now have Bank of England independence, to avoid a repeat of Black Wednesday's sky-rocketing interest rates suited to the political climate. We at last have peace in Northern Ireland, for which few people can take credit but Tony Blair himself. We have a national minimum wage, ensuring that everyone is paid a decent salary (16 and 17 year olds might only have a guaranteed £3.30 hourly wage now, but let's not forget that before 1997 that itself didn't exist).

We have greater equality in all walks of life; between the genders and irrespective of race, origin, sexuality...the list goes on. And however much people cry about ever-easier exams and excessive levels of testing, we undeniably have a better school system than we've seen before. Of course there is still loads more to do - Tony Blair admitted himself today that expectations were set too high in Labour's first election campaign under his watch - but nobody ever said that ten years of Labour would resolve the wreckage inflicted by 18 years of ineffective Tory rule and economic mismanagement.

Tony Blair has, of course, made mistakes; that much there's little doubt about. The Iraq war has undoubtedly been the biggest and clearly the most controversial of those errors of judgement, and it's been one of the few major issues over which I've had reason to disagree with the government during the past decade. The fact that Tony Blair had experienced such a long honeymoon period until the eve of and follow-up to Iraq makes the whole escapade, for me as a Blair supporter, even worse. It's impossible to know how his premiership might have panned out differently if it hadn't been for the whole WMD shenanigans, but different it almost certainly would have been.

The difficulty now seems to lie in knowing where the Labour Party goes next. Gordon Brown of course looks set to be our next leader and Prime Minister, and whether that happens by coronation or an election battle against a more extreme left winger seems a pretty moot point. I've no doubt that Gordon Brown makes a sound cabinet-level politician policy wise, and I have next to no qualms with his work so far at the Treasury, but few doubt that he lacks the charisma that Tony Blair himself personifies. As a party we face an ever greater challenge from the Tories and, when David Cameron has himself caught on quite well to the battle for public appeal, it's something that definitely needs due care and attention.

What's important to remember is that David Cameron's Tories are just that - they are Tories. They are not compassionate, liberal, modern or social conservatives; as Just-call-me-Dave said himself, he is 'conservative to the core of my being'. This is not just Labour spin; this is the truth. Cameron may have made an attempt to re-style the Tory party as a friendly, approachable bunch who care about Britain's welfare more than they do about filling their own pockets. Arguably he may even have done a pretty good job. But those looking just that little bit further can see that the raw, angry Thatcherism beneath has not disappeared. Cameron is still a man of no policy, and that's precisely where the problem lies for him at the moment; he's trying to be Monsieur Tout-le-Monde and that just won't hold once he starts detailing policy. In fact it makes you wonder if Tony Blair's comments today (about how easy it is to please everyone while you're in opposition, compared with having to make actual decisions one way or another once you're in office) weren't directed as a jibe at David Cameron.

The next seven weeks will certainly be interesting - as well as being our final chance to devour some true Blairism (and John Prescott's going, too, in a double blow!), it's his final chance to secure his legacy. And if we're being truthful with ourselves, he's got plenty to boast about.


GM said...

Nice opening post - very eloquent; Labour should employ you as one of their spin doctors. Blair's comments about pleasing everyone were as readily directed at himself, if he had the self-awareness, as at Cameron.

Real Will said...

Chris, je pense que tu as raison et que Tony Blair ├ętait un bon PM. Cependant l’├ęcart entre les riches et les pauvres est devenu plus large qu’avant. Oui, les pauvres sont devenues plus riches, mais les riches sont devenus plus riches dans une plus grande mesure. Et je pense que la class moyenne est perdant en ce moment !!

Chairman Mo said...


Chris said...

Will, the gap between rich and poor has certainly widened rather than narrowed. But under 10 years of Labour government the poor have, as you said, got richer. Under 18 years of the Tories the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, while millions of the poor were evicted from their homes because of rocketing, politically-motivated interest rates which meant they simply couldn't afford to keep up mortgage repayments. Neither situation is perfect, but I doubt we'd disagree about which one's preferable.