The complex legacy of Mr Blair….
Tony Blair is Labour’s Marmite. You either love him or loath him. All this its complicated by the fact that if you are on the left, you tend to loathe him, if your on the right, you tend to love him. If we are honest, both responses are a bit knee-jerk but we need to agree that, whatever his past record, Blair’s influence on Labour is now profoundly damaging. This is for emotional, as much as political reasons. Yes, Blair had political power, but he had more than that, he had something intangibly, which is best expressed in words as charisma and its the pain of the absence of that which still rankles the Party.
However, not only does it rankle the Party, it holds it back and stops its new leaders being themselves for fear of silent comparison and subtle condemnation. I look at people on the right and its quite clear to me that they cannot forgive Ed Miliband for committing the simple and rather obvious sin of not being Tony Blair. They were the same with Gordon Brown, but worse. Mr Miliband has many faults and its legitmate to raise questions about this leaderships direction but you cannot blame the man for being somebody he will never be. In fact, our expectation that he ‘be Blair’ is disruptive and unhelpful for the Party and furthermore, it is something we should have learned from the Brown experience, he was at his worst when he tried to be something he wasnt, ie, like Tony Blair.
The reason the legacy of Blair has become so complicated is the manner of his departure. Realistically, he was lucky to win the 2005 General Election on a whopping 36% of the popular vote and it was clear at that point, his time had come. But, rather than depart with dignity, Blair insisted on drawing the process out and so the Party was forced to make a move which it knew was necessary in its head but wasnt ready for in its heart. Blair left the Party no choice but to depose him, but it didn’t want to do that, because it treasured him and had a fondness for his achievement in returning Labour to power, no matter its view on individual policy issues. Thus, the parting became a bitter sweet pill, laced with recrimination and regret which has endured to this day; both parties have yet to let go, Blair can’t resist sticking his oar in, and many within the Party simply can’t bring themselves to really believe its over.
When we are looking to realistically asses the impact of Blair and Blairism we will find pluses and minuses. Especially, in his 97 manifesto, Blair showed dash and vision and it was matched to a sufficient extent by delivery to be laudable. However, the revolution petered out pretty quickly and then the sole focus became the management of the decline and Blair’s personal egoism which borders on rampant narcissism found its ultimate undoing in the ill-conceived Iraqi adventure. He started to truly believe his own press and generally that is about the time that the wheels come off the wagon.
An honest accounting of the Blair legacy is hampered by the man himself as much as the attitude of his acolytes, which treats legitimate questioning as unspeakable heresy. For example, today’s piece in the Observer desperately avoids talking about social deprivation because if we engaged in a serious study of that then we would have to put the man himself in the dock. Falling incomes, even for the middle-classes he mentions were an issue that has its roots in his period of governance too and so it is with the problems that afflict the riot-hit communities. They have been exacerbated by the conduct of this government for sure, which is why they came to a head at this time, but they existed on OUR watch too. This is the problem, Blair will talk about mistakes he committed in opposition until the proverbial cows come home, but a serious critique of his time in government? It simply never happens.
In his Observer piece Blair demonstrates just how far he has fallen as a serious and dynamic politician. His attempt to triangualte a ‘third way’ on the riots ends up being self-contradictory, and totally hollow. So it is with Blairism in Labour, it is a hollow shell of the dynamic creed it once was (the very thing that made it so successful); an echo of what it was and in its behaviour much like a fanatical cult of the individual, waiting for Tony to inscribe the next words of wisdom on tablets of stone. Labour needs to move on from Tony Blair and the only way to do that is bury Blairism, give it the raucous sailors farewell it deserves, and move onto bigger, brighter things.