Goodbye Tony

Soon, at least.

Today’s announcement prompts some reflection on ten years of the Blair government.  Without wishing to get too political, I would argue that it has been, despite appearances in some fields, a timid and lacklustre administration.  On constitutional reform, an opportunity has been lost.  Indeed, the House of Lords has merely sunk in the estimation of many, tainted as it is in allegations of cash for peerages etc.  Electoral reform, freedom of information and other much anticipated elements of the New Labour project – embedding change that would consolidate centre-left politics in the country for a generation or more – have been marked by timidity.

In other areas, and looking back to the early days, hopes were high.  The early work of the Social Exclusion Unit suggested a really progressive social and welfare agenda.  The emphasis on collaboration, partnership and participation also suggested opportunities for real change.  But slow progress, inevitable when you are talking about sharing resources, building trust and generating new solutions to old problems, prompted ministerial frustration.  By the 2001 election, the pressure was on to spend money, such as regeneration funding.  Not to deliver change, notice, but to spend money.  The single benchmark of success that can be simply communicated in an election campaign – financial investment.  But that temporary fixation crippled some programmes with a history of unwise and/or corrupt spending decisions.  And now, Blair looks back on the policies with a degree of regret – not that he failed to deliver on the early promise but that he now appears to believe that it was the wrong direction to take.

Where timidity was lacking, it might have been more approrpriate – in some foreign adventures most notably.

But, grudgingly, we must also acknowledge some real changes.  Northern Ireland.  Devolution.  Raising development to the front page of the international agenda.  And there are more.

And what of Gordon Brown?  So much spin and so many personal insults have been aimed at him, it is hard to tell.  But it is too late to recapture the opportunity for real and dramatic changes that was there in 1997 and was so quickly squandered.

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