How can a winner of three consecutive general elections, all with landslide victories, now be described as ‘one of the most disliked living figures in British Politics’? The answer to that question is somewhat complex. Tony Blair, who served as Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, has returned to the spotlight after frequent criticisms of Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn.
Just over a year ago, a poll was conducted which found current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to be more favourable than Tony Blair. An astonishingly low 21% of those surveyed in this poll have a favourable opinion of Blair.
Although Tony Blair is now widely disliked, it is evident from his achievements that he was not a bad Prime Minister. Blair’s successes are often overlooked, and that still holds true 11 years after leaving office.
Undoubtedly, the 2003 invasion of Iraq lead to unfavourable opinion from the UK public. However, whilst morally reprehensible, this does not negate Blair’s many accomplishments during his tenure.
Blair’s ‘tough on crime’ stance may have been electorally popular at the time, but the introduction of ASBOs and the creation of 3,600 new criminal offences are failed attempts to tackle crime. Couple this with public opinion of Blair’s actions in Iraq, and it is no surprise that he is unpopular at home. Other factors have also contributed to public disapproval of Blair, such as his support from Rupert Murdock and the right-wing press, and shifting the Labour party to the centre.
Despite this, a large amount of Tony Blair’s achievements are sadly overlooked by both the Labour Party and the electorate. Blair’s accomplishments include widespread constitutional reform, peace in Northern Ireland and improving workers’ rights with the introduction of the minimum wage, all whilst maintaining a strong economy.
New Labour’s sweeping reforms to the British Constitution are evident from the introduction of two statutes, the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (CRA). Blair’s biggest achievement was the passage of the former, delivering on his campaign promise to ‘bring rights home’.
The significance of enshrining the European Convention on Human Rights in statute under the HRA cannot be overstated. Although significant, unnecessary and unjust criticism has been launched by tabloids at the Act, it has ultimately been beneficial for UK citizens, allowing them to hold public bodies accountable for violations of rights.
Similarly, the CRA was predominantly successful, paving the way for the creation of a new Supreme Court, scrapping the judicial branch of the House of Lords and reducing the role of the Lord Chancellor significantly, thus strengthening judicial independence. Further reforms were made to the constitutional settlement under the House of Lords Act 1999, removing all but 92 hereditary peers of the unelected Upper Chamber.
Blair held referendums in various regions of the UK on devolving government, leading to the creation of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
However, the significance of Blair’s constitutional reforms is esoteric, and they are unlikely to be noticed or remembered by the electorate. Despite Blair’s reforms to the British constitution being successful overall, they do not have a large enough bearing upon the lives of the general electorate to be memorable.
On the other hand, Blair’s social and economic reforms can easily resonate with the electorate. Under his tenure as Prime Minister, the UK saw the longest uninterrupted period of economic growth in 200 years. This strong economic performance allowed the NHS and the education sector to receive a huge influx of funding to combat any problems they were facing. Sadly, the NHS and other public services are now understaffed and underfunded.
Blair’s greatest achievement to date, alongside the groundwork laid by John Major, is the Belfast Agreement which has brought peace to Northern Ireland for just over 20 years. The agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement, helped to stop the Troubles after being signed in April 1998. To date, the Belfast Agreement has been a success, but whether it can survive the likely introduction of a hard border in Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit is deeply concerning.
Ultimately, Blair’s achievements are overshadowed by criticisms surrounding the invasion of Iraq. We must, however, recognise the triumphs of New Labour during Blair’s time in office.
Corbyn’s Party should not be ashamed of what was accomplished when Labour were government, they should be proud of it, and champion it.