Tuesday, January 23, 2007


'First Draft' of Blair's Legacy Finds Only Blunders

Max Hastings today offers a 'first draft of history'(as columnists are often said to provide) on Blair's legacy:

His record will speak for itself, however. He will leave behind a country that has failed to solve the huge problems of its public services or Europe; he has entangled his country in an American clash with the Muslim world likely to persist beyond our lifetime; his programme of constitutional reform threatens the union of England and Scotland.

If this is to be the template for imminent assessments of Blair's legacy, it doesn't augur well for his rumoured desire to stand tall in the history books. But, even though I have long since ceased to be a Blair admirer, I think this is too negative and harsh a judgement. I agree that his Iraq adventure was a leap in the dark which has left us all in even greater darkness but on the other issues defences can be made:

Public Services: certainly the problems of health and education have not been solved during the decade Blair has been at the helm, but I would argue things are much better than they were in 1997 when services were on the point of collapse. Waiting lists are minuscule compared with the early nineties and educational standards have shown some improvements, even if inadequate for the nation's needs.

Europe: Blair has tried to play are more wholehearted role in the EU and to some extent has succeeded; at least there has been none of the frigidities associated with his predecessors' efforts. But I have to concede he has to take responsibility for his Iraq policy which has forced a split in Europe so profound it even influenced the voting of Europeans in the Euro-vision Song Contest.

Devolution: It's true that the possible victory of nationalists in Scotland, and maybe even Wales, in the May elections poses questions about the future of the Union. But seriously, what were the alternatives? Nationalist feeling had been building throughout the eighties and nineties; trying to repress such sentiment has often led to acute problems as we have seen in Ireland and the Basque Country. Labour's 'halfway house' approach of conceding control but not sovereignty was a subtly calibrated attempt to find a solution acceptable to both sides. For all we know, this solution may well yet prevail. Too soon to call.

Moreover, Blair has to be allowed some credit for economic success- he led the team which has delivered it after all. And life in Northern Ireland has improved out of all recognition since Blair has been in power. At worst Blair's legacy will be a mixed one- it cannot be said to have been a disastrous one across the board.[hat-tip to Paul Linford for the picture]

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