Tony Blair said farewell to the Labour party today with a vintage performance. All the Blair tricks were on display—the catch in the throat, the drop into Estuary English to tell a story, and the perfectly-timed joke. The speech might have been longer on emotion than it was on substance, but it did describe the ...
Tony Blair said farewell to the Labour party today with a vintage performance. All the Blair tricks were on display—the catch in the throat, the drop into Estuary English to tell a story, and the perfectly-timed joke. The speech might have been longer on emotion than it was on substance, but it did describe the two essential changes that Blair has made to British politics. Blair declared that,
In the 1980s some things done were necessary for the country. That’s the truth. Saying it doesn’t make you a Tory.”
Blair’s essential acceptance of the main tenets of Thatcherism will be a key part of his legacy. Yes, creeping taxes and regulation might have diluted some of the advantages that Thatcher’s structural reforms gave Britain. But it is a sea-change that after almost 10 years of Labour government, there has been no attempt to raise direct taxation. Fears that Labour would try and restore the trades union veto over British politics have proved unfounded. (Though New Labour’s fundraising shenanigans might end up helping the brothers regain some of their lost power within the party.)
The other change, as Blair pointed out with relish, is that…
…it is progressive ideas which define [New Labour] politics. That is the real result of a third term victory. And the Tories have to pretend they love it.”
Blair has done what all great political leaders do: Force his opponents to change. The Tories now feel obliged to put tax cuts on the back burner, praise the public sector, and “embrace an unambiguous commitment to the growth of public services.”
Blair has, though, only been able to do this because Thatcher forced Labour to reform itself. The question is who in British politics now, has the courage to change the terms of the debate? Blair stopped short of endorsing Gordon Brown as his successor. Instead, he praised him as essential to the creation and three election victories of New Labour. (Mischief-makers will note that he also name-checked John Reid, regarded by many as the only senior Labour figure with sufficient cojones to challenge Brown for the crown.) Blair also tried to defuse the row caused by his wife’s comments yesterday by joking that at least he didn’t have to worry about her running off with the bloke next door. Blair’s peroration tugged on Labour heartstrings. “I love this party,” he declared. “You’ve given me all I have ever achieved.” He left them with an exhortation and a subtle jab at Tory leader David Cameron, telling them, “You’re the future now. Make the most of it.” They might, but they won’t make of it what Blair made of the last decade. Judging from the reception he got, the audience knows that.
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.