A dear friend, commenting on another dear friend’s blog, sums up my feelings about Mr Blair’s departure:
“I haven’t seen the speech but from your description he was doing what he does best – emoting to order. The man is a genius at capturing exactly the right emotional mood for any occasion.
I’ve seen him speak in the flesh at a number of different occasions, to very different audiences. Each time he was able, in a Clintonesque way, to say exactly what was right to a potentially hostile interest group. Brilliant.
As to whether or not that makes him a great leader – I have my doubts. He has done some good things: there has been a modest redistribution of wealth, although nothing like enough to reverse the massive accretion of wealth that the richest are accumulating. Some social policies (notably gay equality) are much more equitable – though there was a long fight to get even that.
But he has presided over a decade when social mobility has actually declined – yes, it is now harder to break out of your class than it was under John Major. He has pissed away gazillions on public services without proper reform (have a look at the railways, or the NHS, or even Defence). He has left the House of Lords incompletely reformed (why the Hell do we STILL have hereditary legislators?!). He has failed to deal with the rest of the constitutional issues (West Lothian Question, creation of a proper Supreme Court). He has done almost nothing to retore local government. He has failed dismally to do what he promised with the EU – to “put Britain at the heart of Europe”. He has presided over a corrupt regime (stopped the prosecution of BAE over the bribes scandal, forced Tanzania to use aid money to buy totally inappropriate kit from … BAE, Bernie Ecclestone & Formula One exemptions, Cash for Peerages… this list is way too long to be complete, but you get the idea).
His style has shifted from consensus to autocrat (you can hear how his vocal ticks have changed to reflect this. In the early years his speech was peppered with “you know”, to bring you along; now his speech is full of “look”, a word that encourages no opposition and makes it clear you’re a numpty who doesn’t understand his greatness).
There have been some good (and brave) foreign policies – Kosovo, Sierra Leone. But they are totally overshadowed by the disaster of Iraq.
What pisses me off most is the wasted opportunity. The great things he did in his early days were mostly the policies of his predecessor. His fantastic speech to his new cadre of Labour MPs when he was first elected PM – “We are the servants now” – was a brilliant moment that promised a new dawn, but how hollow that sounds now. Him, a servant?
And I can’t believe I didn’t even mention the erosion of civil liberties, the encroachment of the state into every area of our lives (“sleepwalking into the surveillance society”, as the Information Commissioner put it), nuclear power, nuclear weapons…
AND his pathetic response to climate change (“you can’t ask people to give up long-distance holidays”…).
AND the fact that he thinks it’s ok to go on holiday with Silvio Berlusconi.
AND the fact that his administration let Pinochet get away.
Damnit, I’m going to be thinking of annoying things all day now!”