I’ve seen Paul Linford’s blog a few times, and he seems a decent enough skin, but if you look at this piece, you can see a fine example of journalistic groupthink.
I don’t think that I could reasonably be accused of being a Blairite, but I do think that this is a spectacularly churlish post from a soi-disant left-leaning writer.
Taking it point-by-point…
The Northern Ireland peace process was a ball that was thrown underarm to John Major very gently and he still dropped it. Blair led a Labour Party that was historically more inclined to be agnostic about Unionism and – at times – sympathetic to Irish nationalism. Having promoted devolution elsewhere, and what with not having ‘Unionist’ in the party name, being there at all helped. Getting Labour elected and secured for three terms was, in itself, a massive contribution. A Tory government with a small majority would have fucked this one up in a trice, so simply by keeping them out over two elections was ample contribution.
More to the point, the view that Blair made no difference simply isn’t shared by most of the protagonists in the Belfast agreement and subsequent developments either. Not a good number one for a damning ten-point post.
Things can only get better, surely?
Nope. On devolution, ‘reluctance’ is an odd word. Like Euro-federalism, devolution has built-in creep about it. Don't start that particular cart from rolling if you think you might want to get off. It was a potentially explosive thing to try for a party that isn’t the ‘natural party of government’ in the UK. It remains a minefield and I doubt if any other political coalition would have done it any quicker (or with any more enthusiasm) than Blair has done – without it blowing up in their faces.
That he balked at the idea is understandable, when you think about it. There are plenty of politicians who have rowed back on ideas that looked attractive to their predecessors in opposition, and the fact that Blair went ahead with it at all should reflect with some credit on him. This is the greatest constitutional change* that this country has gone through since…. well, probably the introduction of universal male suffrage, or the 1911 reform of the Lords. But of course, in journoland, it was someone else’s idea that happened without a control freak leader having much to do with it.
Cake. Eating it. Yum yum. Yawn.
Minimum wage. Given that most of the criticism of Blair is based around his huge centralising tendencies and his effective abolition of cabinet government (“sofa government, eh? Eh? EH??!!??), criticising him for adopting a policy that he wasn’t wholly supportive of is a bit rich.
Not that the minimum wage is a policy that is universally recognised as a good thing on the left either. Personally, I think it creates as many problems as it solves. But to use some device to entirely divorce Blair (bad!) from the minimum wage (good!) is the sort of bollocks that we’ve come to expect from activist Tory journalists like Nick Robinson. And he is, I think we can all agree, a bit of a See You Next Tuesday, isn’t he?
Low unemployment, etc. I’ve the same objection to this criticism as I do to the previous point. This country has never enjoyed the level of economic stability that that it has done since 1997. To just dismiss this as something that reflects in no way upon the Prime Minister of this period is just… well…. stupid. Stupid, stupid stupid. And if Blair can't claim any credit for any economic competence, then surely he can't be condemned for anything that has the treasury's fingerprints on it, can he?
London government. Well, I guess you can work out where I’m going with this by now. By establishing an assembly and a mayoralty that was elected, Blair was – at worst – an objective ally of Livingstone. I can now understand why he wasn’t prepared to endorse Ken’s candidature. Fixing the electoral college was no doubt a mistake, but Ken spends far too much time lionising anti-semitic queer-killing misogynistic apologists for suicide bombing for my tastes.
Being pro-devolution means that you risk challenging the power of central government. Something that NO OTHER PRIME MINISTER HAS DONE IN THE PAST CENTURY.
For fuck’s sake, Paul. For fuck’s sake.
On the question of inequality, I think that this is – up to a point – a valid criticism. There is undoubtedly a thoughtful post in the paradox of having a government that has managed to successfully and quietly increase tax revenues, massively increase public spending, heed many of the demands of Unions and pro-equality pressure groups and still fail to reduce inequality.
But, by the logic of the previous point, surely this should reflect badly on Gordon Brown – not Blair? *Choking on that cake by now Paul?* The stealth taxes were often the wrong kind of taxes on the wrong people I expect. But Paul Linford’s post is not such a piece.
It’s just another one of those bits of tedious cheerleading that you expect from his lousy profession. There’s more of this in the last para.
Saving the NHS – while lots of health trusts end up in the red!!!?!! Arentya sickoffit??!!?? Again, when you massively increase public spending on the NHS and still get questioned on your relative success then there is something interesting that needs saying. Something granular. Something with nuance. Something that addresses the appalling quality of public administration and the crappy politics of centralisation. Perhaps a critique of target-cultures? But no. Blair has betrayed the health service. End of.
Education? Ditto. Yawny yawn.
And the last para? The tour de force? The triumphant flourish? This little para says almost everything you need to know about the journalistic perspective. Find a range of totemic criticisms and repeat them like a mantra. It’s a form of groupthink. Sofa government eh? Eh? EH? Knoworramean? Politicisation of the civil service – a bad thing? *Discuss*. Iraq? There’s plenty to be said on that subject, but the author of a post entitled “Democracy in Iraq? We should have tried it at home first” isn’t going to add anything worth reading. And … er… the Millennium Dome? The Third Way? Cool Britannia? Eh? EH?
The most annoying thing about this is its customary laziness. Brace yourself for an article like this from about 80% of the writers who get hired to commentate. It’s just a clippings job. A series of open-and-shut moral tizzies that are wheeled out as though they prove anything.
You have a Prime Minister that you want to damn after ten years – one that has fucked up in so many ways. One that has dropped so many balls and clangers. One that is about as irritating as it is possible for any human being to be. And what do you bring up as a case for the prosecution? The fucking Millennium Dome, a handful of mixed blessings and a few almost unqualified successes.
Must try harder Paul. 0/10.
*NB: We don’t actually have a constitution, so I use the term with some levity