Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Goodbye Mr Blair...
Tony Blair came to power when I was 16, and he has been the PM through all of the changes that have happened in my life since then. Ten years ago, I never thought I'd be doing any of the things I'm doing now. The word "blog" didn't exist, for one thing. Big Brother was something I didn’t have, rather than something I didn’t watch. And I spent my days at school wishing I was out at work, rather than being at work and wishing to God above that I was back in school.
The last time anyone else worked from the desk at Number 10, pretty much the only people in my life who are still here now were my immediate family. Although, thinking about it, I had three grandparents then. And now I have none.
Mr Blair is apparently moving to a new job as a Middle East peace envoy. Certainly there can barely be a more important global issue for him to address. I wish him the best of luck. I hope that those he deals with there can be slightly more reasonable in their treatment of him than many of the commentators here. The screeching web-forums and vindictive pundits lambasting Mr Blair have reached fever pitch in recent months. Hardly the send-off a man would hope for after ten years with the biggest burden in the land. I am not his greatest fan (the last 10 years have seen my leave the Labour Party for the Lib Dems - surely not a gold star for his leadership in my book!), but let's be fair.
He has introduced the Minimum Wage, and child poverty has reduced. We have more people from poor backgrounds at university and an NHS with lower waiting times. And we have peace in Northern Ireland.
I know that this is a Lib Dem blog, and that the last paragraph was an advert for New Labour. But I don't care. Credit where credit is due - we're all grown ups, and opposing for opposing's sake is childish. It’s why nobody votes.
Mr Blair has made some big mistakes, sure. He has been nowhere near as transparent in government as we hoped. His attacks on civil liberties through his numerous new crime laws now mean we have less privacy and more police intrusion than ever before. The pressures of dealing with the new terrorist threat have meant not tackling low level crime in a sensible way. Prisons are in a mess – overcrowded and under-effective.
He has not dealt with phenomenal waste in the NHS and local government, and has kept power in Whitehall when it should have been devolved to communities to sort out problems locally using local knowledge and skills. In education there is a yawning gap between the exam grades of pupils and the skills they need to get good jobs later.
He has presided over a widening gap between rich and poor - surely his blackest failure here at home. He has taken us into Iraq, and we can't get out.
Mr Brown has huge challenges ahead. Many of them involve clearing up the mess Mr Blair has created. But he also has a huge deal of Blairite success to work with - not least the fact that he is heading up a government well into its third term, still with a healthy majority.
For all Mr Blair's mistakes, I am sad to see him go. I have little sympathy for those screaming for his head and bidding him good riddance.
Is he a war criminal? No, I don't think so. Parliament voted for the war, not just him. They did so on flawed evidence, but I don't think he can be blamed for that. I am sure he knew no more than any one else, and he made a mistake in interpreting it. I think Parliament’s decision was wrong, and I think Labour’s stubborn refusal to accept their mistake is wrong too. But Tony Blair deserves a trial at The Hague about as much as I do.
Is he a failure here at home? Again, I don't think so. He has done some very good things, and will go down in history for them like his predecessors from all parties. His NHS reforms saved my mother’s life, there’s little doubting that.
But I think my real sadness at Mr Blair’s leaving comes not from the end of Mr Blair’s administration, but from the disappearance from power of the man himself – from the prospect of not seeing his face at the door of Number 10 and at the Dispatch Box any more. For people of my age, he is the first and only Prime Minister to have really mattered to us. He has been the Prime Minister who has seen us move from childhood to adulthood – from a world of grazed knees and first kisses to a world of one night stands and weddings. When John Major was the PM, I lived with my parents. Now they don’t even live with each other.
Mr Blair has been the narrator on the soundtrack to our lives. Like Thatcher’s children before us, we are Tony Blair’s. From the death of Diana to the Millennium Dome. From the Golden Jubilee to 7/7. And from our first day at university to our first day at work. His has been the leader’s voice. He has been the one who’s been with us as we start a new life and make a way in the world. We really can remember nothing else.
He arrived in 1997 fresh-faced and optimistic. He leaves tomorrow looking jaded and deflated. And sometimes that mirrors my friends to an alarming degree. And tomorrow there'll be a new man waving from the leader's door, but no going back to the start for us.
Tony Blair will have gone by lunchtime tomorrow, and with him a fond-remembered and hugely important part of my life. And I’ll be sad not to see him there any more.