September 29, 2005

Tony Blair's Legacy

India Cause, 28.09.2005

It is all too easy for us to remember Angela Martin’s Baker Tony’s Pizza while gauging the important legacy of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair for this country. Did his pizza “make all the children cry” or did he make most of them smile? For Labour enthusiasts, it is perhaps preferable to look at Gordon Brown’s speech at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, where he paid “repeated tribute” to Mr Blair for “his achievements in transforming” Britain. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle.

Indeed, Mr Blair was in no mood to harp for his legacy yet, as he gave a very policy-centric speech at the conference on the 27th of September. He dwelt on all major issues- from criminal justice to public services- and re-iterated his party’s commitment to be the “change makers”. A lot of issues are in contention to the determinant of Tony’s legacy- Europe (although both the British adoption of the Europe as well as the constitution seem to have hit a cul de sac), public services, devolution, constitutional reforms (Lords, devolution and electoral system), Iraq and the wider war on terrorism, his ambitious plans for environmental protection and debt relief, among others. Some would even classify London’s winning of the 2012 Olympics bid as a contender.

A few of the “Globalist” visions of Mr Blair have already been discarded. Take climate change for example- America refuses to recognise it as an ongoing phenomenon, and therefore wouldn’t sign the Kyoto Protocol, whereas China and India prefer breakneck economic growth to pollution control. Debt relief hasn’t really made headway despite the recent pledge of $55 billion relief by the World Bank and IMF, as donors insist- correctly, one might add- on better governance and transparency as a precursor to any concessions on that front. Free trade within the EU and the WTO has been continuously professed by Britain, and ignored by France and Germany- so much so that the Hong Kong round of negotiations seem doomed to failure even before the start.

On foreign policy, whether one agrees on the Iraq war or not, consensus is fast emerging that the handling of the post-war situation has been disastrous at best. Violent insurgency in the “Sunni triangle” continues, and even in the relatively quiet southern city of Basra, a judge issued an arrest warrant for two British soldiers for allegedly killing an Iraqi civilian. The enthusiasm that went overboard when Afghanistan clocked a 75% turnout during the presidential elections waned last week, when parliamentary election turnouts fell to around 50%.

Back home, he has tripled the investment in the NHS, which has not produced proportionate results (although improvements have occurred). His achievements on education are more contentious, and foreign students preferring Australia and America to Britain certainly does not bode well for international perception of its state. Economic management is an area where Mr Blair prides himself on, and despite general economic stability, it seems that the good times are at an end. The IMF cut the growth forecast for the UK to 1.9% for this year, down from the Treasury’s rather optimistic 3–3.5%. The deficit in public coffers is hovering around £12 billion.

Two books have also come out recently to analyse how Mr Blair fared. Anthony Selden, in his The Blair Effect argued that he was “quite a weak man”, while Lance Prince, in his The Spin Doctor’s Diary, makes the case rather self-explanatory. Tim Hames, writing for The Times, perhaps hit the nail on the head about Mr Blair’s attitude- “I want it all, and I want it now”.

But perhaps Mr Blair’s real legacy lies in reforming his own party- both in terms of following up on Neil Kinnock’s administrative reforms, as well as by being “the man who saved the British left from socialist irrelevance”, according to Time’s Joe Klein. It could be argued that Mr Blair is merely a part of Mrs Thather’s legacy, as his economic policies almost duplicate hers, but true legacy comes when your followers do it your way. Mr Brown’s insistence on following “Tony’s way” seemed to drive home the point.

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