Bad Government Part 3
In 1997 Tony Blair swept to power with a supercilious grin, at the age of 43 the youngest Prime Minister for almost 200years. His success was due in part to the disenchantment with the Tories over sleaze and because their reputation for good monetary management was destroyed by the events of Black Wednesday. He was also helped by his creation of New Labour, a term that nobody understood but everybody put their own interpretation on and thought it was probably what they wanted.
In 1998 he played a major role in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement inNorthern Irelandthat was a major breakthrough and set the peace movement on the road, a feather in his cap.
In 1999 the situation in Kosovo was serious, Serb forces were committing crimes against the civilian population, air strikes by NATO forces were having little effect. Impressed by the success of US and British forces in the Gulf War Tony Blair urged for intervention by ground forces, he committed a British Army force of 50,000 and persuaded a reluctant Bill Clinton to join in with US forces. This too was a very successful operation.
In 2000 the UN operation inSierra Leonewas faltering, the rebels were gaining the upper hand and the country was collapsing into anarchy with serious crimes against humanity. It was decided to abandon the operation and pull the forces out, but General Richards persuaded Tony Blair that the operation should be expanded. A force of British SAS and paras was sent. Once again it proved to be a highly successful operation, the rebels were defeated and law and order restored to the country. In just over three years he had contributed in a major way to successful military and diplomatic actions that had been applauded for being just.
On the domestic front Tony was faced with a minor crisis early in his time with the death of Diana Princess ofWales. Diana was held in deep affection with the British public and there was also a wave of sympathy for her over the way in which she had been treated by the Royals. The Queen had seemed to be more disappointed over the way in which Diana had behaved than she was over the behaviour of her adulterous son that had been the underlying problem. Her initial reaction to the death had seemed to be one of almost indifference and that produced a level of anger in the public. Tony Blair succeeded in impressing upon the Queen the strength of public feeling and managed to recover the situation. In that he did show some statesmanship.
In 2001 he was riding high in popularity, his foreign excursions had been very successful and he had kept many of his manifesto promises; introduced the minimum wage, the Human Rights Act, the Freedom of Information Act and had set the wheels in motion for devolution, a Scottish Parliament, Welsh National Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The situation with the domestic economy was improving rapidly under the apparently highly competent Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.
Tony decided to call a general election and Labour won easily with an overall majority of 166, not much reduced on their 1997 victory.
Later in 2001 the Americans suffered the terrible terrorist attack of ‘9/11’. George W Bush, now US President, declared ‘war on terror’, he believed that Al Qaida terrorists had their base inAfghanistanand declared his intention to invade and clear them out. Tony Blair offered his strongest support to the plan and committed British forces to assist. No doubt he was somewhat carried away with his successes at foreign interventions and expected a quick result. We know now how far removed that was from what actually happened. In fairness to Tony Blair, at the time there was public anger over the terrorist actions and it was known that the Taliban, who were in control in Afghanistan, were religious zealots enforcing strict rules that were particularly harsh towards women, so that there was a good deal of public sympathy in support of the action.
In 2003 George W Bush decided to extend his war on terror by invading Iraq claiming that Saddam Hussein was behind much of the terror activities, and that he was developing ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Tony Blair was keen to please Bush and agreed to send British forces.
The UN had a team inIraqinvestigating the claims of WMDs, but they had not finished their report, so far they had not found any evidence. There was also considerable doubt as to the extent to which Saddam Hussein was responsible for terrorist actions. The UN would not support Bush which made the war illegal in international eyes, there was strong opposition to war in Tony’s cabinet and in the country, with a march against the war said to be one million strong. He had made claims about the existence of WMDs and many suspected him of lying in order to make the case for war. As we all know the war went on to be a terrible affair, thousands of Iraqis were killed along with hundreds ofUKandUSservice personnel, many people came to regard Tony Blair as a war criminal.
His position was made worse by the subsequent absence of evidence to justify the war and his continued attempts to excuse his action. Without doubt the attack onIraqwas a very major error of judgement and was bad government by Tony Blair. A further consequence of this tragic decision on the part of Bush and Blair was that the forces available for the more justifiable cause inAfghanistanbecame much reduced so that the campaign faltered, and the public anger over theIraqwar led to a reduction in public support for theAfghanistanaction.
The full extent of the deception by Tony Blair overIraqand the extent of the disaster was not fully realized when a General Election was held in 2005. At that time the economy continued to look quite healthy and people were fairly prosperous, this counteracted the bad press overIraqand Labour was re-elected, but with a much reduced majority.
Most people in theUKsaw Blair as too close to Bush with no pay back or reciprocity, he was dubbed by the press as Bush’s poodle. Although he did not broadcast it he had a strong Christian faith, he was also a member of Labour’s friends ofIsraeland was known to have deep feelings forIsrael. These sentiments may have clouded his judgement because in 2006 he was reluctant to call for a ceasefire whenIsraelattackedLebanon, standing back whilst they inflicted serious damage and many civilian casualties. He also displayed tolerance over their programme of illegal settlements. A large number ofUKdiplomats expressed their concern over hisMiddle Eastpolicies (It is almost beyond belief that he was later appointed ‘Official Envoy of the Quartet on theMiddle East’, a quartet comprising the UN, US, EU andRussiato mediate in the Israel-Palestine conflict).
Overall, after a good start, his forays into foreign affairs ended extremely badly and resulted in a very high financial cost to the British people and the cost of many lives, including those of British servicemen.
He was proEuropeand argued for closer integration, but did little to furtherUKinvolvement. He argued strongly in favour of the admission of more Eastern European states and, unlike other Western European nations, stated a willingness to accept their citizens in theUKimmediately upon their admission into theUnion. Throughout his time in power he did little to stem the flow of immigrants and the European move resulted in a big influx of Poles and Rumanians. I do not believe that was in the best interest of theUK. If he had had his wayTurkeywould also be a member of theUnionand we would probably have been inundated with Turks by now as well. He pursued the concept of a multi-culturalBritain(a concept fairly widely discredited now in favour of more integration). I believe his attitude towards immigration has been a major disservice to the British people and has put an enormous burden on the country to provide adequate services and housing.
He did instigate some acts that could be regarded as left wing, but it was unclear how much of this was due to his Chancellor, Gordon Brown. He introduced the minimum wage, against strong opposition from the Tories, and rights for gays. He did claim to be left of centre but the majority of the Labour party along with the majority of the British public regarded him as right of centre as he looked for more opportunities to privatise publicly owned concerns. He introduced more market based reforms, increased police powers, increased student fees and reduced welfare payments. With some enthusiasm he latched on to the Private Finance Initiative introduced by the Tories, it was like giving a Barclaycard to a ten year old. He used it to build new schools and hospitals but it has left a worse debt burden for the younger generation than it would have been if the government had borrowed the money to pay for the work. By using PFI the borrowing did not figure in the National Debt. It was a sleight of hand that enabled him to claim credit for new schools and hospitals but it was bad government.
He accepted the consensus view that global warming was due to carbon dioxide emissions and made speeches on the topic on the international stage, and, despite the minimal contribution by the UK to global emissions, committed Britain to taking greater steps towards reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and the associated financial costs, than the rest of the world had agreed to. He promised a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, he strongly encouraged the switch to gas fuelled power stations, although it could be argued that that was not in the national interest, and achieved some reduction in CO2 by that means but, in the end he failed to achieve much, if any, reduction by the end of his rule. He also promised that 10% of our electricity would be generated from renewable sources by 2010 but actually achieved only 3%.
Whilst he may have had some control he left the running of the economy largely in Gordon Brown’s hands. Things seemed to be running very satisfactorily, some national debts were repaid, including clearing the long standing debt to the US owed for loans during the second world war, but there were worrying aspects that a competent PM might have acted upon.
Overall, however, his policies tended towards the right wing, moreso as his time in office progressed, so that they were not very different to that of the Tories before him. He continued to favour privatisation where possible and did nothing much to support scientific research or manufacture. He did very little to control immigration.
Like Mrs Thatcher, he became more autocratic and started to act more as a President and head of state rather than a Prime Minister. He relied more and more on ‘spin’, doing his best, with the aid of Alistair Campbell, to put his own gloss on the truth. In June 2007 he handed over the leadership of the Labour party, and hence the role of Prime Minister to Gordon Brown. He also resigned his seat as an MP.
In summary, although his time as PM started not too badly, he slowly went downhill so that, in the end, he was something of a national disaster, he failed to have the foresight to see the way things were heading and did nothing positive to safeguard our future. In 1997 he had a wonderful opportunity to put right many of those things wrong with Britain, but he failed completely. In his sycophantic relationship with Bush he committed us to the war in Iraq against the wishes of a large portion of the public and the Parliament and against the UN, exaggerating if not inventing the truth in order to try and generate support. The troops that he sent to war were relatively ill equipped and many lost their lives. It was a hugely expensive mistake for which he should never be forgiven.