‘Warmonger’, ‘neo-con’, ‘Bliar’ and ‘war criminal.’ I give you only a glimpse, a selected handful, of uncharitable and inaccurate monikers that have been thrown at Tony Blair over the last decade. Said accusations have been continuously growing in pitch and intensity due to numerous factors. Most saliently, it ought to be noted that both delays in the publication of the Chilcot inquiry (something for which many attribute to Blair unfairly, as he has no control over authorising the release of US government correspondence and documents), as well as his re-entry into the UK political sphere over the issue of the European elections have been primary errors on behalf of the aforementioned monikers.
Much to my frustration, discussions on anything to do with Blair no longer have any relevance on their intellectual merits, but are increasingly drawn to his ‘lies’, ‘illegal wars’ and ‘The Iraq War.’ The public discussion, or more recently mass derision of Blair’s premiership has become highly noxious and poisoned by the use of hyperbolic allegations and accusations that seem detached from fair and balanced criticism which should be leveled against a government.
Blair’s government was not perfect by any means, nor is his current period of post-premiership advocacy and advisory roles, but the criticisms he often faces are illogical, irrational and based on little evidence; rather they are based on emotional rebukes with little acknowledgement of political realities of both the time and now. Blair is the subject of political outrage: whenever he is awarded prizes, petitions with hundreds of thousands of signatures often tend to arise denouncing the organisation for associating themselves with such a man, due to his tenure in government. If Blair were even to dare breathe or sneeze, many social commentators would snidely pass comments that add to the atmosphere of contempt.
Oddly though, it is often the very people who should seemingly support Blair’s agenda and record that seem somewhat appalled by his premiership’s record and policies. If anything, Blairism should be really popular with regards to its long term aims amongst socialists and many on the left. This being said, I am completely aware that many socialists cannot be supportive or subscribe to the entirety of his ministry’s agenda- but this objection is lacking. One parallel which could be made is that I am not supportive of some of Tony’s policy decisions and ideology whilst in government either, regarding the Eurozone however I sided and still do side with Brown.
However, what I will make clear is that there are many convincing and compelling arguments as to why we must re-examine Blair’s premiership, whilst considering far more than singular conflicts and singular policies to be the defining features of his premiership. Instead, we must examine the entirety of Blair’s premiership, in order to reach a conclusion regarding why Blair’s time at the head of government led to such great economic success.
Firstly, during Blair’s premiership, we saw massive economic success on multiple fronts. Many critics will immediately dismiss this and use the recession of 2008 in order to prove their point; although I would argue that the Blair government insulated against multiple recessions and provided 10 years of unrivaled economic success and growth. Arguably his premiership left a legacy of a strong economy that was better than that of any other Labour Prime Minister. John Van Reenan, Professor of Economics at LSE, expertly points out that “The public appears now to take economic prosperity for granted. People seem more likely to give credit for success to the Thatcher reforms, to the Bank of England, to being outside the Euro or to cheap Chinese imports than to the government. With the exception of globalisation, however, these were policy choices of the [Blair] government.”
People seem to now “expect economic growth as a baseline of success”(Virmani, 2013), yet fail to understand that the task of achieving economic success in itself should be something to be celebrated. No better record could celebrate such economic success than that of the 10 years of unparalleled economic growth as aforementioned. Somehow, we have seemingly forgotten all the reforms which Blair and Brown implemented that increased our nation’s economic prosperity and, more importantly, created a fairer UK.
Independence for the UK’s Central Bank, the Bank of England, was an overwhelming a deeply successful move, having been made only 4 days after Blair had entered Downing Street. Overall, it is suggested that the Labour Party as the primary political force in the UK, had reached a consensus of accepting how important “competitive markets and labour market flexibility (Reenan, 2007)” is in order to generate potent economic success and employment, and hence attract international investment. Under Blair, business regained a confidence that Labour were not an enemy of their success. Another massive strength of Blairist philosophy was that the Bank of England should be free of politicians using it to achieve their blinkered, short-termist aims, rather that it should create policy on a considered basis and by experts who have spent years studying and practicing economics. This move was widely celebrated at the time, but seems to be another of Tony’s forgotten achievements whilst in government.
Blair’s premiership led to strong economic policy that was liked both by business, and equally among the consumers. We saw Labour “significantly raised tax as a share of national income and spent the money on public services”, and furthermore Labour introduced redistributive policies that considerably aided the reduction of inequality for those suffering poverty and other forms of deprivation. Blair did this by implementing well considered reforms such as the National Minimum Wage, a policy which many political analysts and economic commentators seem to take for granted now.
The National Minimum Wage protected the employee from a competition in low pay, whilst also providing a guaranteed decent income at the time of introduction. Whilst many point to the fact that Blair’s ministry failed to continue to raise it successively, I’d point out that the National Minimum Wage’s Introduction in itself was a positive move as it stopped employers paying exploitative wages, but Blair’s government also introduced the scheme with a variety of economic benefits in mind. Firstly, it would generate higher tax revenues as the more successful people are and the greater household disposable income is, the more ability they have to spend and hence increase the economic success of the UK, and their own quality of living. This also means that since those in work have improved earnings, it would lift significant sections out of needing state benefits and hence less state benefits and increased tax revenue are good for the economy. Blair’s policy here is forgotten, but the creation of the National Minimum Wage has left a legacy of economic success across the UK.
This is also coupled with the guarantee of full time rights for part time workers, which protected those in employment who often were in groups who were less likely to be in full-time employment, such as women and ethnic minorities. Add into this positive concoction Blair’s introduction of Working Tax Credits, which also dramatically reduced poverty amongst working families also seems to be a forgotten policy of his governance – there are six million families and 10 million children that benefit from the tax credits system that whilst it had teething problems through to 2005, has given working families a lifeline.
Admittedly, Blair’s premiership did see the very wealthiest increase their wealth, however, I would argue that Blair’s efforts mainly focused on improving the chances of those facing economic strife and poverty at the bottom end of the income distribution scale. Under Blair’s government at the time, we saw the highest ever levels of employment in the UK as he moved the emphasis back to creating employment opportunities. When Blair became the United Kingdom’s PM in 1997, just over 2 million people were out of work, he reduced that dramatically, also tackling the number of people seeking benefits, the number of claimants for jobseekers’ allowance halved since 1997 to the end of his reign as premier. 2.5 million more people were now in employment under New Labour with a sizeable 900,000 fewer claiming any form of out unemployment benefits. Whilst there were indeed problems with generational poverty, Blair tackled poverty head on and had great success in doing so.
We also saw a rise in living standards across all classes. Let us remember that from 1997 and 2009, real household disposable incomes saw an average increase of 2.0% per year. Whilst this growth has not been evenly spread over time. Real household disposable income grew by over 3% per year on average in Labour’s first term, by 2% per year in its second term and by less than 1% per year in its third term. Blair’s reforms also most helped pensioners and single parent households, who saw their spending power dramatically rise by 2.0% or more, and the highest regional growth were in areas of higher levels of poverty, like the North East of England and Inner City London.
Blair indisputably relieved the crisis facing the UK child and pensioner poverty radically reduced. Not just that, Blair also tackled the overall proportion of the population in relative poverty. his efforts meant that poverty measured before housing cost fell from 19.4% in 1997 to 18.3% in 2007 and from 25.3% to 22.5% after housing costs.
Blair’s government was full of economic successes, mainly successes that brought tangible benefits to the most needy and vulnerable in society, and lifted many people out of poverty and created a more economically successful UK. When we criticise Blair, we must take a more multi-dimensional approach than simply citing the deficit or Iraq, but also look at the masses of marvelous progress he made in reforming Britain for the better, it is these steps to realistically tackling poverty whilst increasing economic success that make me proud to call myself a Blairite.