Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Contractual Obligation Blog Entry

My general strategy with this blog is to consciously not be topical, mainly because I think there are lots of people who are better at it than me but also in order to highlight things that are in greater need of attention. Nevertheless, it would probably be churlish of me not to offer some form of quasi-obituary of the Reverend Blair (or Father Blair, as he may soon be), not least because of my other blogging strategy.

It is important, I feel, that when we bandy around words like “good” and “great” that we have some semantic understanding of what they mean. This is particularly important given the number of deluded Labour members (as if there’s any other kind any more) who will undoubtedly try and pin “great” on him merely for winning three elections. Margaret Thatcher is a great Prime Minister, but not because she won three elections against the Winter of Discontent, The Longest Suicide Note In History and what can only be described as Neil Kinnock. Similarly, victory over Grey Peas Man, Tory Boy and the Vampire of Folkestone is not the stuff of greatness; being in the right place at the right time just isn’t enough.

Greatness, if such can be defined in Prime Ministerial terms, is surely a question of ideas; whether you changed what it meant to be British or to live in Britain. Goodness is more subjective; it might almost be summarised as leaving the place in a better state than you found it, combined with a sense of the mood of the piece. For example, it’s pretty much self-evident that Thatcher changed the very fabric of Britishness, so she is certainly great. Conversely, whatever your views on the necessity of what she did and the results in her time, there is a pervading sense with Thatcher that she did it with spite and with malice, something that is surely disqualifying from being a good Prime Minister.

The question, then, is simple; has Blair fundamentally changed life in Britain? My answer would have to be historical. Attlee was great, unquestionably, by my criteria. After him, there is the long rule of Butskellism, followed of course by Thatcher. In this chain, Blair’s contribution is largely to provide half of the name for the new Butskellism; Blameronism has a nice alliterative touch with its predecessor, at least.

But the real disqualifier from greatness is that Blair never faced the electoral math, never had to worry about losing an election. From 1997 to 2001 he did everything right, laid a foundation and guaranteed the landslide second term. Given what we know of that night at Granita, a great Blair would have opened up in 2001 with a second term on the scale of Thatcher’s, then jumped ship at the end and handed it to Gordon, avoided the lame duck years and made a real difference. As it is, he blew his political capital on Iraq (something for which I’m clear that 9/11 was only the excuse, not the cause) and resorted to hanging on for the supposed vindication of a third term.

I suppose it all comes down to my abiding memory of the Blair years; that arrival at Downing Street on May 2nd. I know that I felt like the crowds I saw that day; yes, I know now that those crowds were merely the first products of the spin that was to follow, but I still know that that is how I and my whole family felt. Blair had a mandate like no Prime Minister since Attlee, and he blew it fiddling around the edges and playing “Onward, Christian Soldier” in Iraq. Far from greatness, that was a betrayal like few others in British political history. Until the grass roots of the Labour party realise that and come to terms with their abject complicity in it, that betrayal can only continue in the hands of the man from Kirkcaldy.

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