Blair’s decade in office: a legacy of war and waste?

By Prasun Sonwalkar, London: As British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the ruling Labour party celebrate the 10th anniversary of coming to power Tuesday, critics are beginning to call his decade in office as one of “war and waste”.

Blair last week outlined his 10-year legacy in a dossier to his Labour MPs, but not a few have begun to recall Enoch Powell’s prophecy that all political careers end in failure.

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If Blair’s dossier set out the positive side of his legacy, others believe that the legacy of the last 10 years will be simply “war and waste”, a reflection of the public opinion on Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq as well as a 160 percent rise in personal debt to 1.3 trillion pounds.

A poll by The Independent Tuesday revealed that 69 percent of British people believe that Blair will be most remembered for the 2003 military intervention in Iraq that has drawn considerable criticism from within the Labour party as well as outside it.

Blair is expected to announce the schedule for his stepping down soon after the results of the May 3 local elections in England, Wales and Scotland are announced. Labour leaders believe the announcement will trigger a leadership contest, which Chancellor Gordon Brown is widely expected to win.

Potential rivals to Brown such as environment secretary David Miliband and home secretary John Reid have made it known that they would not contest the leadership election. Blair is likely to formally hand over to Brown in June.

In the ongoing debate on Blair’s legacy, his rivals and commentators claim that 10 years in office is rather too long in politics, when even a week can make or break careers and governments.

According to Anthony King, a professor at Essex University: “Never before in British history can a prime minister have started so well and ended so badly. A decade ago Tony Blair was a political genius, a man who could walk on water.

“Now a large majority of voters dismiss him as just another politician: ineffectual, untrustworthy and out of touch. He may be missed when he is gone but most people will not be sorry to see him go.”

He added: “The principal sources of his undoing appear to be not only his collaboration in the misjudged American invasion of Iraq and the reputation he allowed his government to acquire for ‘spin’ but also a widespread feeling that, while the country over the past 10 years has prospered in purely economic terms, it has deteriorated both socially and morally.

“A large majority reckons history will judge the Blair premiership to have been a mediocrity or worse. When Blair finally stands down – probably in late June – there will be no repetition of the ecstatic scenes in Downing Street that greeted his arrival 10 years ago.”

Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell calls Blair’s legacy as one of “war and waste”, and rates his performance “four out of 10”. His administration, Campbell believes, had proved “deeply damaging to Britain’s interests”.

Speaking on BBC, as he launched a dossier highlighting what the party believes to be the greatest failings of the New Labour decade, Campbell said the years included a 160 percent rise in personal debt to 1.3 trillion pounds, a wider gap between rich and poor than under Margaret Thatcher, higher carbon emissions, National Health Service deficits and a doubling in violent crime.

Campbell said: “The Blair-Brown government started with so much hope but now we are left with so much disappointment. This government has wasted its opportunities and wasted your money.

“They have invested in health and education but lacked the courage and principles that would have enabled them to spend it effectively. They wasted their opportunity to build a fairer society, and instead inequality has increased and social mobility fallen. Labour is still the party of redistribution but in the wrong direction.”

He added: “Above all, the Blair-Brown government will be remembered for its decision to go to war in Iraq. It was an illegal war waged on false claims. The prime minister may have taken the decision to go to war but the chancellor signed the cheques and the Tories voted it through. That’s the record for which the Blair-Brown government will be remembered: war and waste.”