“Goodbye. I don’t think we’ll miss you….’ but we probably will. June 28, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, The Left.
Well, so said Cherie, in a parting shot to the media. Very droll, and naturally this will spawn a thousand blog posts inverting the meaning. So perhaps not entirely clever. Yet the truth is that Blair will be missed.
It’s amazing to think it has been just over ten years since he first took power, and remarkable to reflect upon how that ten years saw his reputation, if not his project, founder in the most catastrophic fashion possible.
Except, it didn’t. Not really. Even after the Iraq War debacle he retained sufficient authority to fashion a third Election victory. One can point to the lack of vigour of the Conservative Party and suggest that was the reason why they failed. But it was arguably something else. They simply found no purchase on a politician, who whatever one believes (and I can sense Chekov reaching for the keyboard here) was possessed of a consummate ability to read and manipulate both the political and the emotional. I find it most interesting in my own case, since much of what he represented was completely at odds with my own political beliefs, and even then I could feel myself warming to him.
Now that might be a generational issue, in that he spoke, to some extent, the same language as I did (although he would be thirteen years older than me). Recognisably of the contemporary period, casual, relaxed, efficient. And yet, this is all fluff in the greater scheme of things. Except, it wasn’t.
That capacity to, in some sense, reflect back the personality of those he was with was a crucial aspect of his political success. And cast your mind back to the Women’s Institute conference where they slow hand clapped him, I think in 2000. A shocking moment where his ability deserted him, reflected in the response and reflected again in his dismay at what must have seemed an incomprehensible reception. There wasn’t so much talk about the ‘forces of conservatism’ after that.
And yet this concentration on the personal, on the man, masked a government that by any serious progressive yardstick had some fairly significant questions to answer. Granted the man in Number 11 was dispensing largesse on a grand scale, and one hopes that that is indicative of his future approach. But on a superficial level there was a sort of vacuity to the enterprise. An approach to politics that reified rather trivial aspects of contemporary British culture. Not great in itself, but the government itself in its perpetual cycle of reform of education, health, social services appeared caught on a treadmill that across ten years had no particular purpose. Worse again was a curious blind spot to business interests, one which appeared almost credulous as to their good nature. And appallingly a remarkable lack of judgement when it came to dealing with Ministers who had transgressed. To see the same faces return within a dismally short period to time to high office was both arrogant and a negation of any sense of right and wrong.
Not that there was no sense of right and wrong. The hard work on the North proved that. But unfortunately, as with Iraq too often the sense was simply wrong.
His reputation is not quite in tatters. No man who can be welcomed by Nelson Mandela is beyond redemption. But even that visit had the sense of Blair seeking some sort of temporal forgiveness. Too late. Too late. To be wrong was one thing. To make no apology for being wrong and to make no apparent effort to overturn that wrong was what has sealed his fate.
As he slouches towards Jerusalem that too is perhaps another effort at redemption. I don’t share the scepticism of the new role of Middle East peacemaker, in the sense that an envoy, any envoy, might just make some headway. But I expect almost nothing to come from it. And whatever about the bizarre scenes emanating from Northern Ireland over recent months (one has to ask when the real Ian Paisley will return)…somehow bridging the gap between Haifa and Ramallah is going to be exponentially more difficult than that between Paisley and McGuinness.
Perhaps he will confound us all. Perhaps there is still some small service to be performed (and isn’t that a revealing word in itself). But I suspect that his reputation, diminished as it is will simply diminish further. A grave day indeed when even Ian Paisley must offer the kindly word and wish him ‘Good Luck’… a day when he is given a standing ovation in the House of Commons, perhaps as much an indication in its own way as to the failure of his project, the disaster of his policies and his still enduring personal charm that he could elicit such a response.
Still, we’ll miss him. Whatever else politics was, it wasn’t dull. The problem is that dullness is not the worst of all possible political environments and the furies that Blair in part encouraged (although did not, in fairness, initiate) will probably continue long after he has left the stage.
And his successor, if that is the correct word for a man who has waited, what…fifteen years for the job of Prime Minister.
One of the most remarkable aspects of his persona is how little we genuinely know about the man And I wonder is that deliberate, a ploy developed across the last decade or more in order to make his arrival at the centre stage a fraction less predictable, to let some aspect of humanity shine forth as it were.
The attempt at a smile towards the end of the speech outside Number 10 said it all. This wasn’t the sun coming out, this was the serious stuff given the most transitory (and somewhat unconvincing) varnish of human emotion. Normal politics is resumed perhaps. Normal division entrenched despite the Cabinet of ‘all the talents’. And it is all a world away from the informality of the last ten years, a world away from the aspirations of 1997. There will be no standing ovations in two years time, or seven years time (which is after all the best length of time in power Brown could credibly expect). He is a man in a hurry. The clock is ticking on his premiership as soon as it begins.
And before we greet the socialist millennium it is crucial to recognise that his fingerprints are pretty much on all the decisions, all the judgements of the last ten years. For all that I hope he does well. It was heartening that he was in contact with the Taoiseach yesterday, a sign perhaps that the new relationship may well endure. We’ll know more as the days pass.
But the sense of unreality remains. Prime Minister Brown. Strange. It doesn’t yet roll off the tongue.