Modern British History

Palgrave master series

by Norman Lowe

Chapter 36

Tony Blair – his policies and legacy

Study the sources A to F and then answer the questions that follow.
Source A:

Will Hutton, an author and journalist, gives his view of Blair’s political outlook.

The more I have thought about his politics the more I have come to see his religious belief as the missing piece of his personality, which he has chosen to keep buried in secular times for fear of being cast as preachy or part of the God squad. Without an understanding of his religion, both friends and enemies make the easy charge that Blair is the true heir to Mrs Thatcher, a crypto-Tory, a Trojan horse for American capitalism and Bush’s yes-man.
It’s shallow and misses the larger point. His attachment to Labour is through the common values which come from his religion. For Blair, socialist and Christian values reinforce each other and overlap. He believes in the fraternity and equality of humanity under God. He believes in the parable of the good Samaritan…[Given] his belief that a good Samaritan should help the stricken suffering from despotism, the core of his so-called liberal internationalism, and his engagement in Iraq was inevitable.
Source: Observer, 13 May 2007.

Source B:

Andrew Rawnsley, Chief Political Commentator for the Observer, writes about Blair and Iraq.

Blair was not a poodle being pulled by a leash held by Bush. That caricature has been as widespread as it has been wrong. He went to war alongside America because he wanted to. There were several points at which he could have chosen not to join the invasion….For Blair, Iraq was not a war of necessity, it was a conflict of choice. He chose to join it because he very much wanted to deal with Saddam….He was not a slave to Bush, he was a willing collaborator. He believed that the neocon project to reorder the Middle East which had been activated by 9/11 could mesh with his own belief in liberal interventionism…He was so concentrated on getting Britain into the war that he failed to devote anything like enough attention to what was going to happen afterwards…Of all Blair’s mistakes this was the most severe misjudgment. He went to war with America in Iraq even though he had his own profound and unresolved fears that they had not planned properly for the aftermath.
Source: Andrew Rawnsley, ‘Peace and War’ in ‘The Blair Years, 1997-2007’ Observer, March, 2007.

Source C:

Eric Hobsbawm, the veteran Marxist historian, reflects on Blair’s legacy.

In many respects the government’s record is pretty respectable – due to people around Blair as much as him. If not for Iraq the critique of the government would have been that it carried on a Thatcherite tradition at the expense of Labour ideals…his was the first government that completely subordinated governing to the needs of the media. He introduced an era where future prime ministers will be judged mainly on how they look on screen. The major positive is Northern Ireland. Except for Iraq, he would have been remembered as a reasonable PM, about the same level as Harold Macmillan. But Iraq wasn’t an accident. He stopped being the brilliantly successful intuitive vote-getting politician and developed a missionary conviction for saving the world by armed intervention, most catastrophically with Bush. As Eden is remembered for Suez, Blair will be remembered for Iraq.
Source: Eric Hobsbawm, Guardian, 17 March 2007.

Source D:

Andrew Roberts, a Conservative historian, gives his thoughts about Blair’s legacy.

I think that Tony Blair will go down in history as a great prime minister because, although his failure to change that much domestically matters a lot to us now, it won’t in 40 or 50 years’ time. People don’t tend to judge prime ministers on obscure statistics. What they remember are the big things, and Tony Blair’s big things will be peace in Northern Ireland, democracy in Iraq and the flinging out of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan….After 9/11 he stuck to the war on terror and had the guts to support America when America most needed it. He had the guts to stick with that support and not resile [shrink] from it, even though he came under enormous political pressure to do so. I admire him for that and think history will too…It’s been a breath of fresh air to see Labour stick up for freedom around the world, as Blair has.
Source: Andrew Roberts, Guardian, 17 March 2007.

Source E:

Extracts from the diary of Tony Benn, the former left-wing Labour MP

Monday 7 December 1998

Big news today is that Peter Mandelson has been forced to keep the Post Office in the public service, though he very much wanted to privatise large chunks of it….It would have been more right wing than you could imagine and more than any Labour government could get away with.

Thursday 8 July 1999

Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, announced the Government’s intention to turn the Post Office into a public limited company with shares, all of which at the moment the Government will hold. Of course, the Tories jus lapped it up. They were laughing themselves silly because this was Tory policy.

I had a word with Alan Johnson, who used to be General Secretary of the Communication Workers, and he said, ‘Oh well, it’s alright because the Government have given us an assurance that they won’t sell off the shares.’

But later in the day Blair made a statement saying he would give no guarantee whatever that they wouldn’t sell off the shares, and I am sure they would.
Source: Tony Benn, Free at Last! Diaries 1991-2001, Hutchinson, 2002.

Source F:

Polly Toynbee, political expert, journalist and author, gives her verdict on Blair’s social policies.

Clinics, hospitals and schools are almost unrecognisable from the shabby disrepair Labour inherited. Ten years ago roofs leaked, temporary buildings and even wartime Nissen huts took overflows of pupils and patients. Where’s the money gone, the opposition asks? It can be seen in every public service, public building and open space by anyone who can remember 10 years ago. It can be seen in the pay and status of public servants: 70 per cent more people apply to be teachers now, while a doctor and nurse shortage has become a glut. Children able to read and add up at 11 rose from 59 per cent to 79 per cent. Cancer and heart deaths fell sharply and operation waiting times plummeted: in 1997 283,866 people waited more than six months, but by March [2007] there were only 199. All this, with the strongest economy and the longest period of growth, is Blair’s legacy.

At home, the final reckoning depends on whether what comes after is better or worse. But let no one diminish his social achievements that outshine every government since Attlee.
Source: ‘Social Justice by Stealth’ in ‘The Blair Years’, Guardian, 11 May 2007

Questions

  1. What evidence do these extracts provide about Tony Blair’s priorities and aims in politics? (8 marks)
  2. How far do these extracts support the view that Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war was a complete disaster? (8 marks)
  3. Using the evidence of the extracts and the information from Chapter 36, assess the truth of Andrew Roberts’s statement in Extract D that ‘Tony Blair will go down in history as a great prime minister. (14 marks)
(Total 30 marks)