10 May, 2007 – Nick Robinson on Tony Blair’s Long Goodbye
Comment at end
2nd November, 2008
TONY BLAIR’S LONG GOODBYE … FROM NICK ROBINSON
I found this page from The BBC’s Nick Robinson put together on 10th May 2007 as Mr Blair was about to give his “I did what I thought was right” speech to his Sedgefield constituency. I thought it was worth pasting here. I hope Mr Robinson has no objection.
It drew a lot of comments, good and bad, about the then Prime Minister. I have also copied the comments as is. I may even have commented myself, don’t know, I haven’t checked through all 588. But at that time when we had at least one interesting politician in this country I used to pop along to Nick’s site quite frequently to read what he had to say. It was often quite interesting and he had a style, rare amongst today’s political journalists, of starting from the point that whatever else you thought of Tony Blair he was first and foremost a man. A human being with feelings; like the rest of us.
He said that he thought we’d miss Mr Blair, and tried to put that suggestion down to his having been so dominant in our country’s life for so long. That, and his charismatic star quality, unusual in any public figure.
I think Nick actually rather liked Mr Blair. And I sometimes wonder, as he talks about boring so-and-so and dull whatsisname, if he secretly wishes the intangible, intriguing qualities of Tony Blair were still embodied in Number 10. I like to think he has enough taste and political nous that the honest answer would be “yes”.
- 10 May 07, 08:07 AM
It’s been a long long goodbye. And it ain’t over yet.
It is now a staggering 952 days since a weakened Tony Blair first declared that he would not seek to go “on and on and on” and promised he’d leave office before fighting a fourth election. You may, by now, be thoroughly sick of the wait.
However, I have no doubt that he’ll be missed. I mean that not as praise, but simply as a prediction.
For a decade he’s been more than just another politician. In an era obsessed with celebrity he’s been near the top of the “A list”. He has been one of the few enduring characters in our national soap opera.
When he led the tributes to Princess Diana, millions mourned with him.
When he expressed outrage on 9/11, millions felt he’d spoken not just for Britain but for the world.
When he joined Geldof to rock for Africa again, millions joined their campaign.
When on 7/7 he celebrated the Olympics coming to London and hours later stood defiant in the face of terrorism, millions were on the emotional rollercoaster with him.
Millions, of course, have also come to feel betrayed by him – whether over spin or sleaze or the Dome or, of course, Iraq. The disappointment they feel a mirror of the hope they once felt.
Love him or loathe him, we have grown used to having a leader who is always centre stage. That will change when he’s gone.
Did he, though, live up to his own billing as “the changemaker”?
When it comes to politics the answer is certainly yes. First, he changed the Labour Party. Next, the Great Persuader convinced the British public that they could trust his party again. Finally, his enduring electoral success forced the Tories to embrace the consensus he had helped to forge. The prime minister takes such pride in this that one Downing Street aide says that his legacy can be summed up in two words – “David Cameron”.
The verdict is more equivocal when you look at how he changed Britain.
The man who declared that his arrival in office was a “new dawn” did not end, and perhaps in the end deepened, public cynicism about politicians’ honesty and motives.
What about his oft-repeated soundbite about delivering “economic efficiency together with social justice”? Britain is certainly a richer country. What’s more, the government has spent billions in an effort to help the poorest. Alongside the introduction of the minimum wage came tax credits and a massive expansion in child care. Child poverty was cut but less quickly than hoped. Inequality stayed stubbornly unchanged.
Britain’s public services also benefited from huge government investment. It is visible in new buildings, more and better paid staff. However, the prime minister himself says that he was too slow to introduce reforms and anger at bureaucracy and inefficiency has lost him the support of the very staff he recruited and rewarded.
Britain has become institutionally more “liberal” with new legal rights not just for gay people. But society has become less at ease with itself as a result of mass immigration and the threat of home-grown terrorism.
It is ironic that Tony Blair has been most equivocal about the change that has, perhaps, been most dramatic – that to Britain’s constitution. He’s never enthused about the creation of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh assembly or the Mayor of London nor about the proportional voting systems which they use. He’s often seemed unhappy with the consequences of the Human Rights Act and Freedom of Information Act.
Prime ministers frustrated by progress at home are often inspired to pursue frenetic diplomacy. None more so than Tony Blair.
The unique personal skills he developed in wooing, cajoling and reconciling the warring parties in Northern Ireland were deployed to some effect in the cause of Africa and tackling climate change.
Yet the man who pledged to reconcile Britain to its place at the heart of Europe never dared to try convincing us to abandon the pound and to adopt the euro.
It was the use of military force which provided him with the most dramatic results. British forces helped deliver democracy in Sierra Leone and the fall of a dictator in Serbia. Tony Blair hoped and believed that the invasion of Iraq would do both those things. What’s more he believed it would warn off other regimes from developing weapons of mass destruction. He was tragically wrong. His decision to side with an American president who was not just derided but hated by many voters cost Tony Blair dear. The cost to Iraq is still being counted.
Ever since trust in him and his authority have drained away. Discussion about when he would leave office has turned into a soap opera all of its own.
Throughout that time he’s waited to escape the shadow of Iraq. He will know today that he hasn’t escaped and may never do so. But he will also know that he’s on course to leave Downing Street after a decade in office without being forced out, and with a smile on his face – a feat which no other modern prime minister has matched.