Listening to Tony Blair’s valedictory speech I was struck by two thoughts. The first is how good he was at reminding his party about how and why it won office (and, by implication, warning it not to forget that lesson). The second was that, but for his single, colossal misjudgement about Iraq, he would have gone down as one of the great reforming prime ministers in British history.
There were some really good lines in the speech — for example, his crack about Labour’s “core vote” being the people of Britain rather than its traditional “heartlands”. The observation that the only Labour party tradition he abhorred was “failure”. And his frank admission that some of the things that were done by Thatcherism had to be done if Britain were to become a modern country. Nobody who recalls the chaos of the Wilson/Heath/Callaghan years will dispute that.
That said, Blairism wasn’t the continuation of Thatcherism by other means. Listening to his recital of what his administration has done in terms of renewing the country’s public services, schools, hospitals, etc., it was impossible to believe that a Tory government would have done the same. A few weeks ago I met an American who had been a student here in the 1970s and hadn’t been back to the UK since. He was dumbstruck by how much had changed — for the better. And he was right.
So long as it stuck to domestic issues, the speech was terrific. But the moment it moved on to the ‘war’ against terrorism, it lost its way. Just like its author.