Tuesday, May 01, 2007

An empty anniversary

Actually, the real anniversary is tomorrow. Blair did not become Prime Minister until May 2, 1997, the day on which he was invited by the Queen to form a government, but predictably, most newspapers are treating today as marking Blair's 10 years.

I'll give my considered thoughts on what his premiership will be remembered for after he announces his resignation next week, but in the meantime, what significance should we attach to the fact that Blair has now emulated Walpole, North, Pitt, Liverpool and Thatcher by serving a continuous decade in power?

Well, the answer to that is not a lot, in my view. As that list demonstrates, it's a milestone that neither necessarily reflects greatness, nor necessarily confers it.

The truth is that Blair should not have remained Prime Minister this long, either for the good of the country, the good of the Labour Party, or for the good of his own historical reputation. That he has finally chalked up ten years is more a tribute to his tenacity and to the paucity of alternatives than to any real and lasting sense of political achievement.

As I have written before, Blair should in all conscience have gone in 2003, after the David Kelly scandal. The fact that no-one in the government was prepared to take the rap for this tragic episode has always seemed to me an appalling dereliction of responsibility.

Whether or not it was Alastair Campbell himself, it is quite clear that someone in the government spin machine took the decision to release Dr Kelly's name, and under the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, it was Mr Blair who should have been ultimately held accountable.

As the late Hugo Young wrote at the time, the suicide of Dr Kelly was no random act of chance. It was an illustration of "the dynamic that is unleashed when the Prime Minister's sainted reputation becomes the core value his country has to defend."

Blair could even have made it a resignation on a point of honour, like Lord Carrington's over the Falklands invasion in 1982. He could have said "I was not responsible for this, and I deplore the chain of events that led to it, but the buck stops with me."

Of course, Blair survived, but nothing was ever quite the same again. Early in 2004, he seems to have experienced a momentary realisation that the catastrophic loss of trust that had occurred as a result of the war and its aftermath could not be regained under his leadership.

He could have gone then, handed over to Gordon Brown while the latter's reputation was still sky-high, ensuring Labour another three-figure majority in 2005 over Michael Howard's right-wing Tory rabble.

Instead, Blair hugely outstayed his welcome, and the results of that will be plain for all to see in Thursday night's local elections when Labour's support slumps to near the levels the party enjoyed when he first entered Parliament at the "suicide note" election of 1983.

Less than a year ago, a leaked Downing Street memo laughably suggested that Blair should "go with the crowds wanting more." He's actually going when the crowds can't wait to see the back of him. And he has only himself to blame.

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MorrisOx said...

Perhaps Blair should have gone in 2003, when armies of people across his Government failed in their simple duty of care to a man who served it.
He should certainly have gone in 2004, when the pressures that had been piling up became very personal indeed.
My view of him changed forever then.

Richard Bailey said...

I will remember Bliar as the PM who sent young men and women to die in war on the basis of a false and deceitful prospectus.
There is nothing more despicable than that.
It pains me to realise that the best years of my life are being lived in teh shadow of the worst political leadership I can imagine.

Paul Linford said...


Now you know how I felt growing up under Mrs Thatcher!

Seriously, mate, I agree with you.

susan press said...

Paul, absolutely right.The sight of that picture makes one feel very sad. He should have gone, and was prepared to go, as I'm sure you are aware, in 2004.Now the Labour Party has to pick up the consequences.

BrockleyBiker said...

I find it a scary thought that in 28 years there have been only three Prime Ministers. That doesn't strike me as something that is either good for the political or the democratic health of this country.

Cyberleader said...

I think it says more about the apathy of the British people that he has lasted so long.

Paul Linford said...


That's a very interesting point and one that I have a bit of theory about.

Basically, I think it's a reaction to the yo-yo politics of the period that immediately preceded Thatcher. Between the end of the long Tory hegemony of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the start of the Thatcher hegemony in 1979, British politics was in a state of moreorless constant flux with the result that no government was ever in power long enough to do what really needed to be done - which at that time was to find a cure for the country's chronic industrial and economic ills. I think that part of the "sea change" that led to the rise of Thatcherism was a realisation on the part of the public that these "queasy rides on the ideological big-dipper" as Roy Jenkins called them had to stop, and that, for good or ill, the next government would need to be given at least two terms to sort out the mess. After that, I sort of think we got used to the idea of Prime Ministers being in power for long periods, as opposed to the rather Italianeque style of politics we saw in the late 60s and 70s.