By Prasun Sonwalkar
London, May 1 (IANS) With British Prime Minister Tony Blair set to step down after an eventful decade in office, critics are beginning to call the period he spent in office as one of “war and waste”.
After Blair outlined his 10-year legacy as prime minister in a dossier to his Labour MPs, not a few have begun to recall Enoch Powell’s prophecy that all political careers end in failure.
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 about Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq as well as a 160 percent rise in personal debt to 1.3 trillion pounds.
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.
Blair is expected to formally step down in June and hand over the keys to 10, Downing Street to Brown. 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.
In the debate about Blair’s legacy, his rivals and some 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, professor of government 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.
“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 “4 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, Menzies said the decade included a 160 percent rise in personal debt to pounds 1.3 trillion, a wider gap between rich and poor than under Margaret Thatcher, higher carbon emissions, National Health Service deficits, class sizes and a doubling in violent crime.
Menzies 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.
“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.”
(Prasun Sonwalkar can be reached at [email protected])