All entries for Thursday 10 May 2007
May 10, 2007
I can tell you what a number of newspaper op-ed pieces will ask over the next few days: Is this the greatest nation on earth?
Tony Blair says it is. And he says we know it, and the rest of the world knows it too. It’s a grand statement, unlike anything he’s ever really said before. And unlike anything most of us have said before.
You wonder if he’s been caught up in the euphoria of leaving one of politics’ great offices, knowing there’s more chance of him getting a Sainthood than becoming UN Secretary General.
But you also find yourself wondering if he’s right. We’re not a nation for posturing. “We’re best” almost seems to be an unfashionable, American motto, but it’s not a notion the British are very comfortable with. A Kiwi colleague of mine laughed when he heard Blair say it. No-one in the room defended our PM. But no-one vocally disagreed with him either.
New Zealand and Canada are two countries who always seem to be in with a shout of being a ‘nicer’ nation than Britain. Given the cultural and language similarities, many of us have probably thought for at least ten seconds about moving there for a while.
And you can hardly blame many of them for thinking they’re better than us. Just look at Johnny Foreigner – our ambassador in T-shirt and shorts, wearing sandals with socks on, and drinking a can of Stella in countries where they actually brew their own lager.
Weakening our claim for ‘best nation’ status is our lack of nationalism. The Union Jack has been hijacked by racists, our cultural institutions seem to acknowledge their continental equivalents are superior, and few of us seem to know what it means to be British.
It’s ironic that Blair believes we’re the best, when if most people were asked, they’d probably say it was he who had made it worse. But outside of politics, is there much that is completely and deep-seatedly wrong?
We are, perhaps, the most upwardly mobile nation on the Earth, and yet few of us try to leave, to try bigger and better things than Britain alone can offer. Is that lack of imagination or satisfaction with what we’ve got?
It’s unnaturally patriotic for most Britons to suggest, but is it true? Is ours the greatest nation on earth?
I’m not sure. But I know I wouldn’t want to leave.
So, he’s going, and it might be even sooner than we thought. The atmosphere at Trimdon Labour Club is pretty hysterical – there’ll probably be tears and there’s already dancing by one woman. Nutter.
11:57 Philip Gould, Blair’s polling expert, is ignoring the idea of “lowering expectations”. Apparently after this speech the whole country will be moved, and start to wonder what we’re missing out on. Wishful thinking, I think. Intriguingly he says: “I think people will be surprised”. Ten more years! Ten more years!
11:59 Anyone know how many people are allowed in Trimdon Labour club according to the fire regulations? I reckon they’re on the upper limit.
12:00 Blair’s agent John Burton introduces the Prime Minister.
12:01 Caption of the morning was on BBC News 24: “Blair: Today is a special day”. Someone suggested there might be 26 hours or something.
12:03 And the PM’s on the stage.
12:04 Joke #1: The person shouting ‘four more years!’ outside Trimdon Labour Club wasn’t on-message for today. He’s paying tribute to his agent.
12:05 And here’s the shock announcement: He loves Cherie. Nope, that’s not it.
12:06 “Today I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labour Party… On the 27th of June [Wednesday] I will tender my resignation… I’ve been Prime Minister for ten years – I think that’s enough.”
12:08 “I was born almost a decade after the Second World War. I was a young man in a social revolution. I reached political maturity as the world was ending and the world was going through a revolution. I looked at my own country… strangely uncertain of its future. All that was symbolised by the politics of the time. You stood for individual aspiration and getting on in life or social compassion and helping others. You were liberal or conservative. You believed in the power of the state or the power of the individual. None of it made sense to me. It was 20th Century ideology in a world approaching a new millennium.”
12:09 In my opinion, he’s done better speeches than this before. It’s better suited to a Labour Party Conference than a small hall of 300 people.
12:10 “No country attracts overseas investment like we do”. I think China would have something to say about that. And they wouldn’t be alone.
12:11 “Britain is not a follower. Britain is a leader” – So far, the tone’s been fluffier than a set of furry dice.
12:13 Blair’s bearing his soul to the country now. How he put the country ahead of himself, and sometimes even his party.
12:17 He’s moved on to talking about Iraq, terrorism, and how he had to make the decisions he did.
12:19 “I ask you to remember one thing: I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong – that’s your call. But believe one thing if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for the country”
12:20 “I’ve been very lucky and very blessed. This is a blessed country. This is the greatest nation on earth” – he’s saying things he daren’t have said before.
12:21 And his last words? “Good luck”. That’s it. Less than eighteen minutes. His conference speech last year was probably a little more emotional, but in this one he really showed his colours.
Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/
At 9.12am, I wonder to myself: “I wonder if the Guardian will use today to change the ten-year old look of their website…”
At 9.13am, I wonder to myself if I’m psychic.
It’s time for Tony Blair to leave the stage. It’s been ten very interesting years, starting so well, but ending so badly.
This week saw a ray of light at the end of five years of difficulties. Northern Ireland will hopefully be Tony Blair’s legacy in office – he’ll probably try and achieve a similar feat in the Middle East once he leaves it.
His other legacy is to leave his successor a clone in opposition. David Cameron is Tony Blair in blue clothes, and this could be his Achilles Heel in the 2009/10 election.
For his party, Blair leaves behind a group of people who will find transition difficult. Despite the lack of real opposition, Gordon Brown will find he needs to get his party behind him while reaching out again to the centre ground that elected him and his friends in 1997. This week it was suggested David Miliband is holding fire until after the next general election. Others may be less patient.
Blair’s reputation was irretrievably damaged by Iraq and its aftermath. It’s a war he probably still doesn’t regret, but might come to in the years to come.
The next few years will be a time of great reflection for Mr Blair, as well as for the party he leaves behind.