A Blast from the Poisonous Past

Tony Blair, Ex-Prime Minister

Tony Blair’s memoirs will no doubt be a nine day wonder. WH Smith are already selling them at half price. But the papers today are full of them.

Mr Blair apparently backs the Tories on the economy and thinks the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition is a “Tory version of New Labour”.

What a completely fatuous remark. You can criticise the Coalition of course on many points – but you really do have to realise that their central purpose is to undo most of what Mr Blair and his government did.

Mr Blair really is a consummate showman and politician. His politics are not “for a purpose”. They are the end in themselves. The furthest extent of his squalid vision was merely to get and keep power.

Even with these memoirs, he is putting the knife into his enemy Gordon Brown, whom, it is clear, Mr Blair came to hate during his time in office. The feud at the heart of New Labour continues.

Why is it that the media are so much more interested in his memoirs than in the leadership contest that is currently taking place in the Labour Party?

The answer, of course, is that nobody cares who wins the leadership contest.

The Labour party hasn’t changed though. It’s the same Party that Mr Blair led. His faction, the “modernisers” or New Labour faction, are alive and well. Their candidate for leader, David Miliband, looks likely to win the contest.

So how come nobody is interested? What about what New Labour stands for? Don’t the people care whether it succeeds?

The answer, of course, is the same as always. “New Labour” stands for nothing at all. Mr Blair’s great project, his life’s work, means nothing. And that’s why nobody cares who leads the Party.

How much did Mr Blair achieve in his time in office? True, he took the Northern Ireland peace process, begun by John Major, forward to a conclusion – and perhaps a politician less slippery than Mr Blair could not have achieved that. True, he achieved a devolution settlement that has calmed down nationalist sentiment in Scotland and Wales – though at the cost of potential problems for the Union in the future.

But did he change Britain in any fundamental way? Did he really succeed in reforming anything? No, he didn’t. The country he left was pretty much the same as the one he took over from John Major in 1997.

Mr Blair’s achievements are measured in purely political terms. He “made Labour electable”. He won three elections. He stayed in power. He kept Mr Brown in check for all those years.

But those achievements are all about winning and keeping power. What did he do with that power? The answer really is very little.

Except of course for that War. For dragging our country into a foolish adventure in the Middle East that we are now struggling to extricate ourselves from, that brought death and grief to thousands of families and which caused serious damage to our national interest.

And the manner in which he won and kept power; the debasement of our politics; the extension of State power into every nook and cranny of our lives; the overweaning arrogance of the public sector under his government are a legacy that will poison our politics for years, perhaps for ever. The Coalition is straining every sinew to clean out his poison, but it’s a mammoth task.

Mr Blair’s political vision is vapid nonsense. He is, ultimately, not a statesman, and never will be, much though he may pose as one. He is simply a grubby little politician. His talents were only to make a shallow vision sound profound and, like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, to lead our country nowhere. And that’s why he achieved so little despite dominating our politics for a decade.

I shall not be buying those memoirs. Mr Blair’s time is past. And I thank God for that, frankly.