Tony Blair’s Legacy
James Forsyth offers an interesting appraisal of Tony Blair’s valedictory address to the the Labour Party Conference. He illustrates that great leaders can change a country’s political climate for years, if not decades.
Blair’s essential acceptance of the main tenets of Thatcherism will be a key part of his legacy. Yes, creeping taxes and regulation might have diluted some of the advantages that Thatcher’s structural reforms gave Britain. But it is a sea-change that after almost 10 years of Labour government, there has been no attempt to raise direct taxation.
Blair has done what all great political leaders do: Force his opponents to change. The Tories now feel obliged to put tax cuts on the back burner, praise the public sector, and “embrace an unambiguous commitment to the growth of public services.”
Blair has, though, only been able to do this because Thatcher forced Labour to reform itself.
Quite right. Thatcher and Reagan altered the political climate of their respective countries in ways still apparent a quarter century later, making them conservative in ways that took certain longstanding liberal policy options off the table. The result was the New Democrats of Clinton, et. al. and the New Labour of Blair and Company. Likewise, Clinton and Blair forced their conservative opposition to accept some progressive premises, changing the nature of the debate again.
The Welfare State and confiscatory taxation were beat back in both the UK and the US by Thatcher and Reagan. Yet, the Thatcher-Reagan vision that “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem” is likely permanently dead, owing to Clinton and Blair. Bush has to run as a “Compassionate Conservative” and forced to champion all manner of domestic spending initiatives Reagan would have considered anathema. Ditto the UK Tories.