On Thursday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair formally announced he will be stepping down next month. To mark the occasion, National Review Online asked a group of British political observers to assess Blair’s legacy.
“All political careers end in failure,” an uncommonly successful British politician once said. His brutal judgment is a reminder not only of the virtues of American-style term limits but also of the limitations of the instant verdicts that accompany a departing political leader.
In Blair’s case, as with other prime ministers who left office after they should have but before they wanted, history’s judgment will be kinder than the one his contemporaries offer.
He leaves Britain a more prosperous, more dynamic, and more open society than when he arrived. Unfortunately, he can claim little credit for that. Britain’s success came in spite of Labor’s efforts not because of them. He spent most of his last five years trying to undo the mistakes of his first five, largely failing to roll back the bloated state and higher taxes Labor imposed when they came in.
That failure is outweighed by two bigger successes. His patient efforts secured the foundations for a lasting peace in Northern Ireland and on the really defining challenge of our age, he not only got it right, but sacrificed his political career for it.
He understood quickly the threat to free societies posed by Islamist terrorism and by the tyranny that nurtures it. He saw that American will and power is the only plausible defense against it. It was his misfortune, but not his fault, that he tied himself to a U.S. administration whose competence and commitment never matched its rhetoric and idealism.
– Gerard Baker is U.S. editor of the London Times.
There is no Blair legacy in power as there was a massive Thatcher legacy of privatization, bringing the unions back under the rule of law, sales of public housing, and the reining in of inflation to mention but four of a dozen massive achievements. He leaves under the twin clouds of corruption and failure to deliver. He might well soon appear in court giving evidence as close colleagues possibly head to prison for offering honors for donations to the Labor party. It is not out of the question that he will himself be charged.
Still Mrs. Blair is said to be a good attorney.
Reelected in 2001 he stood in his usual earnest prayerful hands locked together stance in Downing Street and told us that the vote was an instruction to deliver improvements in so-called public services. Well as police officers are as rare as a hen’s teeth, hospitals crumble (you get ill at your peril — Walter Reed writ wide), 25 percent of school leavers cannot find “plumber” in the yellow pages, and welfare explodes and immiserates he sure has delivered, delivered a society in need, desperate need of another Lady Thatcher.
I do however credit him with reforming the Labor party when in opposition and removing Clause 4 of its constitution which has previously committed it to nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy. And he kept much of Thatcherism intact. But to say after ten years as prime minister that your sole pluses are what you did before you came to power and what you did to preserve somebody else’s legacy is pretty sad, very sad indeed.
Cheer up, things are getting worse, so bad we might soon have a chance for real reform on public services, regulation, and the awful, corrupt, corrupting, unelected and unaccountable shower that meets in secret overseas in Bruxelles. And if we never again get to hear his irritating upper-class voice telling us how much he feels the hand of history on his shoulder it will not be a day too soon.
– John Blundell is the director general of IEA (the Institute of Economic Affairs) in London.
Tony Blair did a great deal to keep the U.S.-U.K. special relationship special during his years in ten years in office. We can thank him for that.
Though not without fault, he was a solid ally in the days following 9/11, and in the wars on terror, Iraq and Afghanistan. His stepping down clearly marks the end of an era in U.S.-British relations.
But, more importantly, what about the future?
Unfortunately, the cross-Atlantic relationship is likely to be a little less special under Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown.
Initially, he’s likely to tack left toward the Labor party’s base — and away from positions that are unpopular in Britain, including a number that involve the U.S.
We’re also likely to see a move away from a personal relationship with President Bush, who has worked well — and closely — with Blair over the last six years.
That may mean trouble ahead on a number of vital national security issues, including continued British support in Iraq, dealing with Iran’s nuclear aspirations, and, even, keeping NATO as the center of European defense.
Brown, a green-eye shade type, and with major counterterrorism problems at home, may also let British defense spending slip even further than Blair.
Military intervention and pre-emption will be very hard sells with Brown.
He will likely focus his foreign policy on issues such as global warming, poverty reduction, development and trade. Think: “Soft power,” not “hard power.”
Brown is likely to be a strong Atlanticist. He even holidays in New England — but it’s often with Democratic strategist friends, who likely shape his views.
Brown isn’t likely to be a disaster for U.S. foreign policy — but an initial distancing from Washington is likely, if for no other reason than to escape Blair’s shadow.
In the end, under Brown, ties with the U.S. may not be so close as they were under Blair — a bloody shame for both London and Washington.
– Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense.
Thursday afternoon, after Tony Blair had delivered his farewell speech as prime minister, my mobile rang. It was a friend calling from a taxi on his way to a TV studio to deliver his verdict on the closing chapter of the Blair premiership. “What should I say?” he asked. Coming from a journalist who has been one of this government’s severest critics, it seemed an odd question, but as the day wore on I found that most of my friends and colleagues were equally bemused.
Yes, we care passionately about shrinking the state and cutting taxes, and over the past decade the tax burden has shot up from 39 percent of GDP to over 42 percent and council tax (Britain’s property tax) has doubled in real terms, but where does the blame for this lie? Was it Tony Blair or his Chancellor Gordon Brown’s fault?
When Gordon Brown agreed to step aside for Tony Blair in the Labor party’s leadership election of 1994, Blair agreed to give Brown unprecedented control over British domestic policy, and Brown has guarded this power and used it to massively increase the size of the state in Britain.
Blair’s instincts are not as interventionist as Brown’s and he should have done much more to reign in the treasury, but when Blair closed his speech yesterday by describing Britain as “a blessed nation … the greatest nation on earth” — language which is never used by the right in Britain — a shiver of national pride went through the hearts of many people.
Blair was a showman, and there is a chance that history will judge him as a statesman. But he was famously lousy with figures and, unfortunately for Britain, it shows.
– Matthew Elliott is chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Britain’s grassroots campaign for lower taxes.