It has become very fashionable of late to completely dismiss Tony Blair and New Labour as having made no positive contributions to modern British society whatsoever. This is a load of balls. From devolution, to economic management (Including Bank of England independence), to gay rights, to Kosovo, to Sierra Leone, to the Good Friday Agreement and to the Human Rights Act, Tony Blair did a lot of good. People forget what the alternative was. John Major was, by all accounts, a decent man, but his party was dominated by the hard right who have since taken over the party, if not its leadership. Tony Blair provided instead a reforming, modernising, and essentially liberal government.
That is not to dismiss the mistakes, and he will no doubt go to his grave with “Iraq” stamped on his soul. But surely the greatest irony of Tony Blair and New Labour is that they were eventually done in by the very thing that got them elected in the first place, that is, the obsession with perception management. In 1997 New Labour won by ruthlessly surpressing those left wing elements in the party which cost them votes, yet by the time of the London Mayoral election in 2000, the offical Labour candidate. Frank Dobson, was beaten into third place with 13% of the vote by Ken Livingstone who had been denied the nomination by Blair because he thought Livingstone would not win for Labour!
If anything did in New Labour, it was the control freakery that had made them successful in the first place. The fact that Blair and others just could not understand why both progressive and traditional conservative voters were so incensed with things such as the restrictions in civil liberties and the ID card scheme showed that, ironically, it was no longer the left who were out of touch with the mainstream, but the New Labour people who had supposedly made mainstream values their touchstone.
Despite all that, one must always ask of an elected official after he or she has left office: Did they do more good than harm? Iraq has made that a difficult one to call in Tony Blair’s case, but I would suggest that it’s still 50:50, and that maybe history may eventually look to Tony Blair as a Harry S. Truman type figure, who was despised leaving office but eventually was recognised for having made a broadly positive contribution. The scary thing is, you could probably say the same about Richard Nixon, a comparison I suspect Tony Blair would frown upon.