In an interview in the Guardian this week, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron gave an interesting, counter-intuitive take on Tony Blair:
“Blair in three chapters – the final chapter is post 9/11, where breathtaking foolishness after foolishness, hubris and something that diminished Britain in the world, cost the lives of thousands of innocent people and misled the country. What he did was unspeakable. But let’s look at the first two chapters, where he built an opposition that could beat the Tories. Then when he brought in minimum wage, tax credits, schools, devolution. I think being a person who thinks winning elections so you can do good is honourable.”
Everything quoted there I agree with and basically summarises my own take on Blair: Iraq has unfortunately overshadowed the good things he did, and indeed there were many good things about Blair’s governments. The fact that most of the Labour membership wants to disown even the well done bits of 13 years of centre-left government is really rather sad.
When I look back at my own antipathy towards Blair when he was prime minister, I realise now that much of it was painted by political naivety. I was suffering from the delusion at the time that I had in common with many liberals, namely that we were now living in a post-Cold War wonderland in which the sky was the limit in terms of human progress. Sure Blair has done some good things, the me of ten years ago would think, but anyone who was governing Britain these days would have done that stuff, wouldn’t they have? As such, surely we should be aiming much higher, right? The Tories shout about taking us out of Europe, but really they must know that would be incredibly stupid. Right?
In 2016 we find ourselves in a place in which we’ve voted to leave the EU because of unfortunate internal Tory politics, Labour has been taken over by a bunch of cultists who aren’t even particularly progressive (in fact, very regressive in many senses) – and it takes the leader of the Liberal Democrats to say that trying to win elections so you can make good things happen, because no one else apart from the Tories seems to think this is the case anymore. It is Conservative government by default since no one else has both the means and the desire to effectively challenge them.
It’s easy to look at Blair and focus only on the negative bits (and there are plenty, just to be clear). But the centre-left throwing everything out from that whole period is a big part of the malaise it finds itself in. Until it comes to terms with its past, it cannot move ahead. Funny that the Lib Dem leader is trying to face that while the current Labour leader is the poster child for the denial movement. Ten years ago such a thing would have been unthinkable.