JG has posted on the subject of Tony's legacy. This post started as a comment, and grew so large that I decided to post it separately.

I must see things through an inverting lens.

  • Reagan: Never a buffoon in the eyes of those old enough to see through the Spitting Image caricature, and intelligent enough to understand the mess the Western economies were in in 1980. Heard an excellent example recently of how well Reagan "got it", better than any American president for a century, from a woman who worked in his administration. Her husband also worked for him, in the Department of Agriculture. Invited to see the President, he told Reagan how efficient he was going to make the Department. Reagan's reply: "Now listen, don't make it too efficient. Can you imagine if we got all the government we pay for?" That's a smart cookie.
  • Thatcher: Cruel to whom? The British government had spent decades being cruel to those who wanted to improve their lot, and generous to those who just wanted a wage for a day's attendance or better still a wage for no attendance, regardless of whether they contributed to the economy. She reversed that, and although far more people benefited (then and now) than suffered at the time, all people talk about is how hard it was on the people who had been screwing the British economy for decades. I'm sorry, but they had it coming to them. And as for megalomania, her biggest mistakes were when she left people like Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson (and her European counterparts) to lead her up the garden path on the Single European Act and the ERM. I bet she regrets being too soft, not too hard.
  • George W Bush: The good part - lower taxes. The bad part: bigger government. If he had managed to rein-in government spending to match the tax-cuts, he could have been remembered as another Reagan (domestically). Instead, he will be remembered as a contributor to one of the biggest economic imbalances the world has ever seen. Unless, that is, the intellectuals find a way to rewrite history to blame the coming collapse on something else (that better suits their view of the world, e.g. it was nothing to do with fiscal irresponsibility). Combine that with his failure in the clash with Islam (let's not call it a clash of civilizations, that is too good a word for the state of modern Islam), and he ought to go down as one of the worst presidents in their history. Not for what he wanted to do, a lot of which wasn't too bad, but for what he actually did, which was a lot worse.
  • Blair: His principal legacy is the bureaucratization and re-socialization of Britain; the restoration and extension of the leviathan state - more layers, more powers, more employees and sub-contractors, more welfare-dependency, more intervention in business and charity, more intrusion into personal and family affairs, more central-planning and micro-management, more regulation, more taxation....
    • Constitutional change. Hopefully the emasculation of the Commons is temporary, but the politicization of the House of Lords is a long-term change for the worse. The halfway-house on devolution is an unfinished legacy - the current position is unstable, and will resolve itself either into more complete devolution or a retreat to a more unionist approach. It's a close call, but I'd say probably the former, so probably a significant part of the legacy. The London mayoralty also looks like a significant change, the London Assembly less so, and other regional administrative bodies utterly irrelevant, apart from the bureaucracy and cost.
    • Politicization of institutions. Not only the civil service, through blurring the lines between professional civil servants and political advisers, but also organizations like the Royal Academy, the CBI (and other trade associations), the LSE (and other academic bodies), the Met. Office, etc have been indoctrinated with Third-Way "philosophy" through infestation with Third-Way henchmen and learning that the way to attract funds is to wrap one's appeals in stock NuLabSpeak cliches. The BBC's institutional bias has been reinforced. Charities and businesses have been forced to get political by their greater dependency on successful lobbying, thanks to greater intrusion of government into all areas. Quangos proliferate, run by overpaid journeymen with the "right" (that is, left) political views, and reach their fingers into every pie. Even the Royal Navy has got "wet", in the wrong sense.
    • Restoration of state-dependency. As Gerard Baker pointed out in The Times last week, "Leviathan is now so large that, outside London, half the population is dependent – either through public sector jobs or benefits – on taxes". Once you reach that point, it becomes a self-reinforcing process.
    • Decline of law-and-order. No one believes the statistics that claim to show that crime is falling, do they? Inner-city teenage kids get killed every night. The homicide and violent-crime rates crawl inexorably upwards. Paedophiles and foreign criminals go missing routinely. Our prisons are full and unable to rehabilitate/train their occupants so we are giving criminals early release from what would anyway have only been half their sentence, and telling judges not to lock people up even if they deserve it. ASBOs have become a badge of honour for young thugs. Town centres are no-go zones on Friday and Saturday nights, if you don't want to risk being attacked or vomited on. The message is being sent through sentencing advice and police priorities that shoplifting and other non-violent theft isn't that serious. And the police spend most of their time filling out forms or extorting money from motorists. The decline of respect for authority is dangerously close to a point of no-return, and the Government's answer is a Respect agenda and czar.
    • Underfunding and overstretch of British military capability, leading to lower standards. Let's hope the falling standards are just in parts of the navy. The majority is undoubtedly still of a high standard, if given the resources. But how long can they keep it up at this level of overstretch and underfunding, and with real trouble recruiting? I wonder why they have trouble? Does it look like a good life to you?
    • Confusing the boundaries between business and government. Public-private partnership, PFI, huge government services and consultancy contracts, outsourcing of "non-essential" government activity, etc. have created an unhealthy confluence of interest between the politicians and civil servants who put these contracts out to tender and the corporations who bid for them. This is further confused by the Government's predilection for taking policy advice from the senior management of many of these corporations. The relationship between government and corporations is heading for the relationship that existed between those groups in Nazi Germany. The symbiotic relationship between big business and big government has turned into a feeding frenzy under Tony's watch. This has led to:
    • The concentration of corporate power. In many sectors, the Government has allowed mergers and acquisitions that have left three to five players controlling most of the market. Combined with widespread vertical-integration, this creates substantial barriers to entry, which the Fat Lazy Bastards exploit to minimize competition, and maximize profits.
    • Bank of England. Moving the Monetary Policy Committee to the bank, and giving them responsibility to set interest rates in order to meet the targets set for them by the Chancellor is almost universally praised as a bold and wise move (though more attributable to Brown than Blair). I disagree. We have been living in an atypical global economic situation since 1997. The Bank and its independent status has got a lot of credit for holding inflation down, but global (e.g. the rise of the BRICS economies) and regional (e.g cheap Eastern-European labour) pressures have made that job pretty easy. It has allowed the Government to pursue inflationary policies without producing wage- or consumption-good inflation. If those downwards pressures ease, which they will, we will find out how difficult it is for two separate groups to manage different parts of an interlinked economy using separate tools. It will be like trying to drive a car with one person controlling the steering and the other controlling the acceleration and brakes - possible for a while, but bound to crash eventually, particularly when under pressure and travelling at speed.
    • Levels of debt. The increase in public-sector pension liabilities, shortfalls in private pensions, personal indebtedness (credit-cards and mortgages), mortgaging public-sector contracts on PFI deals, funding tax-revenue shortfalls through the sale of government debt, extreme leveraging of mergers and acquisitions activity in the stockmarket (e.g. private equity and hedge funds) etc. has seen us sink once again into terrible debt, just as we finally pay off the last of our debts from the War. The debts this time are spread across the board (personal, commercial and public), rather than affecting mainly one sector as in previous booms. The consequences of the inevitable bust will be more severe than ever before. The sale of most of our gold at the bottom of the market ensures that we have little to fall back on during the bust. The large differential between "inward investment" (the sale of our capital assets in the form of our businesses) and "outward investment" (the purchase of other countries' capital assets) means that we have been gradually selling the family silver in that regard also. Under Blair, Britain has been living like a junkie single-mother on a council estate, selling the furniture, or even breaking into properties in the more well-endowed neighbourhood, to pay for the next fix. It will take generations, or a hideous crash, to unwind this legacy.
    • Rural England. Policy has been resolutely focused on the urban heartland of Labour support. From symbolic issues like the hunting ban and the closure of rural post offices, to the structural issues of agricultural decline, and unaffordability of housing, the rural way of life is barely sustainable. With the surrender of further powers to Europe (see below), some of this will be hard to reverse.
    • Planning/housing/infrastructure. The failure to provide proper incentives and powers for local authorities to approve the amount of housing they judge to be required for their area has resulted in a severe shortfall in the housing stock and unnecessary house-price inflation driving people into further debt. The failure to provide similar incentives on commercial, industrial, and infrastructure development has led to severe delays in necessary improvements and inadequate productivity improvements. The results include potential shortfalls in energy capacity and severe pressures on the transport system. This cannot all be fixed tomorrow by the centralization of planning powers and an injection of cash that we can't afford. Having squandered a large part of the bonus from unprecedentedly favourable global economic conditions, the money will be hard to find to make up for this missed opportunity. We could be looking at decades of post-imperial standards of decay in our infrastructure and development, and a democratic deficit in the improvement of these conditions by central diktat, when what was really needed was to align locals' interests to those of the developers.
    • Sell-out to Europe. Future leaders won't have much to negotiate on, once the powers surrendered to Europe are confirmed by ratification of the latest treaty. The bloated British bureaucracy will become, even more than it already is, a tool for the implementation of European decisions - decisions which may increasingly be inflicted on us without our agreement. It is very likely that a major legacy of the Blair years will be Britain's withdrawal, several years down the road, from the European Union. Either that, or Britain abandons its liberal, individualistic, common-law heritage and adopts the social-democratic, collectivist, Napoleonic model of our continental neighbours - and ceases, to all intents and purposes, to be British.
    • Education. The ramming of unsuitable teenagers through sixth-form and often college has resulted in grade inflation, and a superfluity of pointless degrees. Conversely, training and jobs in the trades, crafts and industry have been gradually eroded. The legacy will be far too many over-educated and under-intelligent school-leavers and graduates with few basic skills, qualifications that nobody wants, and high student debts, and insufficient tradesmen, craftsmen, mechanics and other manual workers to keep the economy actually working. Perversely, this should be good news for the working classes still engaged in manual jobs, as their scarcity should push up their value. A minor legacy may be an increased entrance of middle-class kids into manual careers. An unintentional positive legacy may therefore be a further reduction in class distinctions (though accent will continue to be a divider in a way that it is not in most countries).
    • Northern Ireland. Let's give him credit for one undoubted and hopefully long-lasting success. It will be interesting to see how long it takes before the pressure starts for devolved Northern Ireland to begin to align its policies with the Republic. The scale of British funds being poured into Northern Ireland will have to reduce at some point. I wouldn't want to bet that Northern Ireland will still be part of the UK in 2050. But if that is achieved peacefully, it will not be the end of the world. If the Republic of Ireland manages to preserve its economic success, and the UK carries on running itself down, even a Protestant might look at the two countries and wonder which one they'd be better off in. That's a big if, though. They look pretty vulnerable to any global economic downturn. So maybe Northern Ireland will still be in the UK in 2050. As long as there's peace, it's not that important. Blair's legacy is certainly a much higher chance of that.
    • A part of Blair's legacy will be the things that he or others think are part of his legacy, but are not. The legacy in these regards will be in the conditioning of people's responses on the assumption that he has made a bigger difference than has really been the case, and their assumption that they either cannot or need not make significant changes to what he has put in place.
    • Not climate change. Blair would like action on global warming to be part of his legacy, but, despite his best efforts, the main products have been hot air and fig-leaf policies that are designed more to look good than to have an effect. Emissions are still going up, and will carry on going up until people either realize the impotence of the policies that they think have been the greatest successes so far in this field (e.g. EU-ETS and the Renewables Obligation) or an energy price-shock makes government mechanisms irrelevant. His legacy will be chiefly in putting in place sufficient dud mechanisms that successors will think that they can only make marginal improvements. In which case, his legacy will be either rampant global warming if he is right, or a byzantine network of pointless incentives and rules if he is wrong.
    • Not international relations (apart from negtively in Europe). Blair has bestrode the international stage. But he has achieved little (apart from some important humanitarian interventions). Both he and his interventions will be forgotten as quickly as the next international shindig. Meantime, the Doha round of trade negotiations has collapsed, Europe is committed to greater protectionism, Russia is returning to its old authoritarianism and sabre-rattling, Israel and the Arab world are still in confrontational mode, large chunks of Latin America are going various shades of red, Africa is in no better state than he found it, and if poverty is reducing in other parts of the world, it is because of changes that the government of those countries are themselves introducing, and not thanks to any efforts of Mr Blair.
    • Not Iraq. The clash with Islam has been looming for a century, and will probably last for another century. Iraq is a lost battle in a long war (which ought to be a defensive war). Single battles don't make legacies. You couldn't even say that Suez was Eden's legacy. People may associate them with their Alamos, but that is not the same thing as a legacy. A legacy is something you leave behind. Events like that happen and then we move on (or at least, I hope we do - it won't be his fault if we don't). It is structural change - change to institutions or change to the popular view of the world - that constitutes a leader's legacy.His legacy by that test is greater than people think.
    • Not spin (as many commentators have suggested). All politicians have tried to spin policy to suit their version of events. It is up to the media to accept or challenge their version, it is up to the public to demand more independence and insight from the media, and it is up to the intellectuals who shape public opinion (teachers, doctors, academics, business-leaders and so on, as well as journalists) to encourage different perspectives and independence of thought. There's not a lot Blair could do about that - it's a hard one to put on him altogether, though he has encouraged the process along. He has been the beneficiary for much of his career, but I don't think it's his legacy. The soft-left perspective of most intellectuals, which lies at the heart of this phenomenon, is a legacy of the twentieth-century and the absurd respect paid to that berk Marx and other socialist fantasists, not just of the last few years. Complaints about spin have come to the fore when people got what they wanted, found it didn't work, and wanted something to blame so they didn't have to recognize they'd got it wrong. "It's not the approach that's wrong, it's the way it is implemented and dressed up." WRONG, it's the approach.
    • Not the concentration of all mainstream parties on the centre-ground. That also (see previous point) is a response to where the public are at, not Blair. It may turn out that his legacy will be the death of one or both of the Conservative Party or the Liberal Democratic Party, as they serve no more than a tribal purpose nowadays; all three political tribes are shrinking, and his, as the dominant one, is most likely to survive and incorporate the remnants of the others (perhaps this is what Quentin Davies realised). It may be that events (e.g. economic collapse) will reveal the hollowness of this centrist philosophy before they die, and they will return to more principled positions. Or it may be that they die before then, in which case new parties will fill the vacuum when reality bites. Let's hope there's still a classical liberal strand in British political thought by then, or those new parties may be very unpleasant.

The funny thing is, I think Blair's legacy is disastrous, and yet I believe him when he says that he did what he thought was right. And I don't even blame him for all of this. I reckon his first term was when he was most in charge, and we have seen the growing power of Brown since 2001. And while received wisdom nowadays is that his first term was a wasted opportunity and he left it too late by waiting until his second term to make the changes that were needed, the view through my inverting lens says that the first term was pretty good, because he made a few good changes but didn't make any of the big mistakes that we will come to regret and kept the size of the state in check, by sticking to his pledge to honour the Tory spending commitments. The second and third terms have been when most of the damage has been done, and a lot of that damage (expansion of state powers, intervention and micro-management) looks like Brown's handiwork. It may be that a sound, alternative view of Blair's principal legacy is his failure to keep Brown in check.

P.S. I don't believe this is the benefit of hindsight in the case of Thatcher and Reagan. I remember having arguments with my brother-in-law ages ago, when he claimed that Reagan was a fool who didn't know what he was doing and all credit for the collapse of communism ought to go to Gorbachev. It's people like that who have gradually rewritten history, as events showed how foolish their received wisdom was.




Indeed, but the truth and perceptions are two very different things however.  A legacy is very dependent on people's perceptions.   During the 1980s and even the 1990s, Reagan was a joke figure, yet that view has mellowed dramatically.  Now he is seen in polls as one of the greatest presidents. 

Whether you like her or not, people's perceptions of Thatcher were horrendous in the early 1990s.  People remembered her for destroying the coal mines and introducing the poll tax.  Thatcher was, in their eyes, cruel to the coal miners and the unions.  She was cruel to working and lower middle classes with the poll tax.  You may not see this as cruel because her intentions were for the greater good, but hey did (and many still do) see her as cruel.  We are now benefiting from many of her policies, but at the time people paid a price.  However as time has gone on she is also remembered for the Falklands, the right to buy, saving the economy.  Most of all she is seen as a strong leader who wouldn't have Europe, America or anyone else tell her what to do.  

With Blair, right now, his legacy might be seen as America's poodle, the Iraq war and spin.  It may well be in years to come this view may mellow or harden.  It is too early to tell. I agree with many of your assessments of Blair, but will these criteria define "Blairism"?  I don't think so.  I do not think Blairism will be a term we use in the future to describe an ideology in the same way Thatcherism is used.  None of the above is set in stone like the radical changes Thatcher gave us, except I fear his PR machine (simplified to spin, but I take and agree with your point on this) and Iraq.  I disagree with your point on Iraq.  Iraq was not and is not a war with Islam.  It has been simplified and even sold as the war on terror, but it is completely separate from Palestinian situation.  It is completely separate from Al Queada.  This was Britain and America's war on Saddam Hussein and it has gone disastrously wrong.  However, I fear the impacts from Iraq will continue for a lot longer than Suez.  A war with Iran would be a direct result of Iraq.  Any terrorist attacks on British soil will be linked to Iraq (whether correctly or not).  The economic issues may well be seen as Gordon's legacy rather than Blair’s.

I also disagree with your views on the centre ground.  I think it is a myth made up by pollsters and the media.  New Labour were a socially left wing party and an economically (largely) right wing party.  If the electorate were offered attractive policies from less regulation to lower taxes then they would bite.  But it doesn't appease the left of the labour party and it doesn't appease much of the media. I do not think putting a marker on a simple linear political spectrum is a realistic way of determining someone's/a party's political persuasion.  For example, where would you put classical liberalism on a linear spectrum given that Labour, apparently, occupy the centre ground and Thatcher is seen as far right?  To me the term centre ground means a lack of ideology and apathy.  Apathy is just as an effective way of winning power than other method. 

It is far too easy to judge Europe.  Sell out may well become pioneer.  Again, this is not about personnal opinions, but overall perceptions.  There may also be some even bigger selling out to Europe to be done that would overshadow anything Blair has done.  For example, if a future PM signs up to the Euro... 

Northern Ireland is a great legacy, but will he be remembered for it?  Probably, but again it is very early days and this may become just another chapter in the Irish question.  Major's role in this event should not be forgotten but it virtually has. 

Law and order, in my opinion, is always seen as worse now than it ever was. There has definitely been a dumbing down in this country and I do not believe for one second that the streets are saver now than they were ten years.  But a Blair legacy?  I'm not convinced. 

Personnally, his over-regulation and nanny state is what has annoyed me most.   

We are all Thatcher's children, but I do not believe we will become Blair's children.  I very much agree with you that he really blew his legacy post 2001.  He has secured his place in history, but not in the premier league of Prime Ministers.  I do have a gut feeling opinions of him will mellow over time and he will be regarded as a great politician. 

When you say "people's perceptions", which people do you mean? There is a tendency for the strident views of a particular group, whether that is the media, or the London chattering classes (two broadly intersecting sets) or the unions and their socialist pals, to be portrayed as "people's perceptions", rather than "some people's perceptions". Views do not aggregate in that way.

I knew plenty of people who thought, at the time, that Reagan was astute and Thatcher was fair (even on the poll tax), but their voices weren't heard because theirs was not the received wisdom of Hayek's "intellectuals". Sure, Thatcher was hated in the areas where she removed state support from uncompetitive industries, and anywhere where socialism was deeply ingrained, but there was a significant part of the country that was grateful to her for being brave enough to do it, even in 1990. They just didn't go to London and throw things to demonstrate their views.


Everything, including legacies, is dependent on perception to some extent. But is a legacy dependent on perception at the time that the leader exits the stage? I'd suggest it is much more dependent on the perception that comes with the benefit of distance and hindsight. Truth and perception tend to converge over time, apart from those who cling to their "saving lies". I am suggesting what the truth is now, and what I therefore think will come increasingly to be the perception over time. We'll see if I'm right. I've stuck my neck out on quite a number of issues, so I'm bound to be wrong about some of it.

Can one talk about a "legacy now"? Isn't it pretty much in the definition of a legacy that it is what is lasting, not what is ephemeral? 

I was replying last time I suspected this would come down to the defintion of legacy. I guess it does come down to what is seen now as true will also be seen as true in x amount of years time. The trouble with this defintion can be explified by Iraq. Suppose by some extreme luck Iraq does actually turn out to have a happy ending and is the start of a peaceful period for the middle east (unlikely granted, but for arguments sake), then Iraq would be looked back as a very positive legacy for Blair. In the same manner, we may all forget about it (as you compared with Suez). Or we may never forget the disaster we all think it is now. What we think now could well change in the years to come, but it would still be a legacy.

Though maybe legacy is the wrong word. It implies a lasting impact. Maybe perception is a more appropriate. Thatcher had a real legacy, but I wouldn't say Major did - we just have perceptions of him. Maybe Blair won't have a consistent lasting impact but actually different generations will have different perceptions of him.

I find it hard to believe a PM that served for over 10 years would simply go down in history the same way as say Callaghan - familar names to most but couldn't really tell you much about him - and probably the way Major will go down in history. But I am at a loss to know what he will go down for - hence a man who could have been great but lacked the vision and made a grave mistake with Iraq and used the media to great effect before it turning on him is the best I can do! This view could change very easily of course - but right now I find it hard to see a positive perception for the man other than being a great politician and whilst there aren't and shouldn't be any comparisions between the two - they do say Hitler was a great politician too.

New Labour were a socially left wing party and an economically (largely) right wing party.

What is your political spectrum? Define what it means to be left- or right-wing. Or if you think there are different spectra for different aspects, define what it means to be left- or right-wing socially and economically.

There are, of course, many different definitions. Mine is simple, though unconventional. To me, it is the amount of government (size of the government and the amount they interfere in people's lives and organizations' activities). Left wing = more government, right-wing = less government. Extreme left = totalitarianism/authoritarianism (including communism and fascism, which is where a lot of people part company from me). Extreme right = anarchism.

I think there is a lot of confusion in the country at the moment about the supposed benefits and capabilities of government. They still believe the Labour mantra about "investing" in (rather than spending on) services. And they really believe that government can make lots of things better. They think they can have all this without a return to the 70s. And none of the mainstream parties tell them different. They sell similar amounts of interventionism and managerialism, they just claim that their flavour is better (fairer or more competent) than the other parties'. That is what centrist politics means to me - either believing this lie (a lot of the public) or pandering to it (a lot of the politicians). But it is hard to criticize politicians for pandering to public beliefs. They need the support of the intellectuals (i.e. media, educationalists etc) in order to confront and change beliefs. Nevertheless, the right ought to be trying, or what purpose does it serve?

I disagree that Blair's government was economically right-wing. Some people think that it is ownership that matters - that so long as most activities are in private ownership, that is right-wing management of the economy. I believe control matters more than ownership, and that one can control businesses without owning them, as the Nazis demonstrated. The harnessing of corporations to the interests of the state, the insulation of those corporations from competitive pressures, and the regulation of businesses wherever they do not do voluntarily what the state wants, represents much more left-wing management of the economy than people realise. Then there is the question of taxation, welfare, the minimum wage, workers' rights (e.g. maternity/paternity), which are also economic issues, and on which Labour have again been more left-wing than people realise. Basically, I am saying it is not only their taxation programme that has been stealthy, it is their whole left-wing economic programme.

Perhaps Major's main legacy - a positive one, but one for which he can take no credit - was White Wednesday and the survival of the pound. Our history would now be very different if we had joined the Euro, but White Wednesday has made that politically impossible for the foreseeable future. Sometimes it's useful to have fools in charge.

Callaghan's legacy was the final, incontrovertible demonstration of the failure of the post-war Keynesian economic consensus, and the consequent death of supply-side economics and its delivery through state-owned enterprises (although he ought to share the credit for that with Heath and Wilson). For a while, there was no left-wing alternative, leading to the long period of right-wing domination (so Thatcherism was also, in a sense, Callaghan's legacy), but by the early 90s, a new form of covert socialism was being developed. So, in another sense, Callaghan's legacy was also Blair's "Third Way". Of course, Callaghan can take no credit for any of this.

Personality and political skill aren't enough for greatness. Without the right philosophy, these characteristics can only be harnessed to power for power's sake, which can never lead to greatness (infamy, perhaps). Blair had all the skills to sell a product, but never had a good product to sell. So I wouldn't say he could have been great. I would say, what a shame that Frank Field or John Redwood didn't have his skills - they could have been great. Given these limitations, the best that Blair could do was very little, and sell it as something big, which was roughly what he did in his first term. The worst that he could do was fool himself that he had some big ideas and sell them to the public, which is what he did in his second term. The frightening thing about Gordon Brown is that he is much more convinced that he has some big ideas, and he is much more wrong. But at least he will have a harder time selling his errors to the public.