Many people see Tony Blair and New Labour as spelling one thing: Iraq. This is along similar lines to how many people view David Cameron and his Liberal Conservatives as spelling Brexit. These views are parochial.
In the interest of not forgetting the best characteristics of people and governments, I would like us to consider why and how Tony Blair becoming Prime Minister positively changed Britain.
Blair achieved much in a short space of time in terms of positive social change, indeed by starting with helping to get 101 women Labour MPs elected.
Quickly on his successful election, Blair equalised the gay age of consent. His government saw great waves in terms of equal and diverse rights among us, enshrined by the Human Rights Act. Labour ended section 28, ending the ban on gay positive education, permitted same-sex couple adoption, and set the groundwork for equal marriage by introducing civil partnership.
His government secured access to higher education for millions more people by implementing tuition fees (which were not “a bad thing”, given the alternative – smaller numbers), alongside presiding over the introduction of academies.
There were failings. I hated them. Specifically, I loathed the complete failure to care about social mobility beyond access to higher education. There was no real incentive to do anything, nor help for people like my family, who worked hard and did the right thing. We were taxed too much, crime was too high, and in Iraq, we saw the end of any positive thoughts about Tony Blair – though we did re-elect his Government in 2005. This man won an election by deploying the same tactics of anyone looking to secure a third term, without abusing the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.
In his Chancellor, he had someone who prevented him from doing the now unthinkable and joining the Euro. The problem with his Chancellor was that he was someone who, of course, was, apart from that judgement call, pretty fiscally incompetent. Yes, there was a financial crisis, but guess which nation had the first collapse? Britain – in Northern Rock. This happened before Lehman Brothers. What followed after Brown became Prime Minister was nothing short of a catastrophe.
But Blair made all of this bearable because, ultimately, his additional funding and reform to the National Health Service were a good thing. His commitment to his liberal instincts and his fiscally sane nature (forgiving his poor judgement on the Euro, which was prevented) made him an excellent premier.
Without New Labour, we would not have had any significant developments on health, education and equal rights for all. We would not have had Cameron engage his brain to defeat the Labour Party again, permitting further social developments.
We should be eternally grateful for so much of their programme of government, and I think it’s sometimes useful to reflect on that.