Friday, May 11, 2007

Blair's Legacy

So Tony Blair will stand down on June 27th. He stated simply that "I did what I thought was right for our country"

David Cameron replied that "I think a lot of people will look back on the last 10 years of dashed hopes and big disappointments, of so much promised so little delivered."

That he is a giant on the world political stage is a given. But how will history judge him?

The Good

i) The Economy

TB has presided over ten years of continuous growth and leaves Britain the 5th most prosperous nation (as measured by GDP per capita). This is his greatest achievement. Sceptics will retort that ll he did was not tinker with the market-led reforms initiated by Thatcher and continued by Major, but credit must be given to him for resisting the time-honoured Labour tradition of closing down free markets with ever crippling legislation.

ii) Northen Ireland

Is now at peace. Bombs are a thing of the past. Has he appeased terrorists to secure this outcome? Possibly. But nobody can deny theat the outcome is infinitely preferable to what went before.

iii) Kosovo

Clinton hesitated but Blair urged action not dithering. He must take credit for ending the genocide in Bosnia.

Jury Out

i) Devolution to Wales and Scotland

It's what they wanted and he delivered. However, a consequence may have been to set in motion the complete break-up of the United Kingdom.

ii) Immigration

Blair's open borders policy (immigration has increased from 340,000 a year in '97 to 600,000 in '06) has undoubtedly contributed to the strength of the economy by providing the UK with an army of willing and cheap labour. It has been a boon to business. However, fissures are now opening up and rising crime and a discontented Muslim population are dominating headlines and fuelling the rise of fascist parties.

In addition Blair's decision to sign the Human Rights Act of 1998 has led to the appalling position Britain now finds itself in, whereby convicted foreign terrorists are now no longer able to be deported back to their country of origin.

iii) War on Terror

TB was the star of the show post 9/11. "We are all Americans now" was his finest soundbite and he courageously argued the moral case for backing the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. However all this moral authority was junked by his misleading the British population of the severity of the threat posed by Saddam, by his weapons of mass destruction and of his links to Al-Qaeda. One can't pin the blame on Blair for the disastrously handled US post-invasion plan in Iraq but he must be remembered for lying to his voters about why we were sending our troops to fight.

The Ugly

i) Education

When TB came to power, he announced three priorities, "education, education, education". Given the emphasis he himself placed on education, it is herer that we must judge his record most closely.

According to the government, his education policies have been an outstanding success. The GCSE pass rate has increased and increasing numbers of students are attending University. However, not everyone believes these figures. The schools regulator, Ofsted, recently pronounced that more than half of Britain's secondary schools are failing to provide children with a good standard of education.

Jeffrey Robinson, a senior examiner in GCSE Maths, claimed that the exams had been dumbed down by such a degree that an 'A' grade is now equivalent to a 'C' grade of ten years earlier.

But most damning of all was a recent study by the London School of Economics claiming that following ten years of a Labour government, social mobility is actually decreasing. Children born in 1970 are more likely to have ended up poor than children born in 1958. Britain was shown to have the worst record for social mobility amongst the eight advanced nations studied.

It is education then that TB has scored his biggest failure.

ii) Taxation
In 1996, the tax burden was equivalent to 43% of GDP and the national debt stood at 38% of GDP. By 2006, these measures had risen to 46% and 40% respectively despite falling unemployment and general prosperity. These figures do not include the fraudulent off-balance sheet accounting of the massive PFIs. In short, taxes have risen substantially under TB.

iii) Crime

"Tough on crime. Tough on the causes of crime" A classic TB soundbite. But was he tough?

By the end of 2006, Britain's prison population had risen from 45,800 in 1992 to 80,000. Britain now has the highest rate of incarceration of any Western European country. Sounds pretty tough to me but has it reduced crime?

Despite a full prison population, conviction rates for violent crime under Labour have dropped to below 10%. Reported rape cases have doubled since 1997 whilst conviction rates have halved to a disgraceful 5.5%. Serious woundings have risen by 50%, but their conviction rates have fallen from 14.8% to just 9.7%. Only burglaries have fallen under Labour - and by just 0.5%

John Reid recently described his Home Office as "not fit for purpose". He was right. Under Labour the number of people leaving the UK has increased from 250,000 per year to 350,000. Rising crime is a major factor.

Crime has been an abject failure.

iv) Pensions

Provisions for retirement were a non-issue in 1997. However Gordon Brown's $10 billion a year raid on pension funds has decimated the industry. Despite the switch from defined-benefit schemes to defined-contribution pensions in most of the private sector, the government continues to award its workers (now 25% of the population) highly lucrative defined-benefit pensions and a lower retirement age. This is the principle reason for the 100% increase in Council Tax in real terms since Labour came to power.

v) Subordination of the UK's sovereignty to the EU

The media scratches its head as to why voter turnout is so low at General Elections, but when up to 80% of UK national legislation now comes from Brussels, it is hardly surprising. Under Labour, British politicians have lost a huge amount of legislative power and democracy has been weakened as laws now emanate principally from the unelected EU.

vi) The NHS

The world's second largest employer and now a monstrous, insatiable consumer of taxes. No need for figures here. The destruction caused by targets, managerialism and reforms too timid is complete. Even Blair himself admitted that if he had his time again, he would have been bolder with healthcare reform.

vii) Peerages for Cash

Cronyism and a return to the dreaded days of Major's corrupt Tories. But in my view, not the most serious of TB's shortcomings.