“Tony Blair Was Right”
Many thanks to the Queen Mary Labour Society for a good discussion this evening. They invited me to deliver a talk entitled “Tony Blair Was Right” (their choice not mine), and we had a lively and intelligent debate.
I reprised themes that will be familiar to readers, such as The Finest Peace-Time Prime Minister of the Democratic Era; The Myth of the Sainted Attlee; Iraq as a Tragedy of Flawed Nobility; The Fallacy of the Wasted Majority; and The Myth of Growing Inequality.
The most challenging part of the discussion, though, was the suggestion that Blair was culpable for the economic calamity in the shadow of which we live and expect to live for years to come.
This forced me to think on my feet, and I doubt if I gave a sensible account of things. Let me try to do so now. It seems to me that, if there was a problem with regulation of the banks, then we should fix the problem rather than decide that the financial sector is the source of all Thatcherite wickedness and that it should be suppressed.
This lies behind a lot of sentimental thinking about failing to promote our manufacturing industry, and that reliable marker of soft thinking, “rebalancing the economy”.
There was nothing wrong with the UK vigorously exploiting its competitive advantage in financial services. The error was in allowing banks, on which the money supply depended, to over-extend themselves. Whether much could have been done about that, however, is a hindsight question.
And, because it was a problem of the global financial system, affecting the rest of Europe and America, I do not see it as negating the successful economic management of 1997-2007. Obviously, it would have been better if the government had kept to Gordon Brown’s prudential rules and had been repaying debt from about 2001, and Blair shares the blame for that (and the Conservatives did not argue for it). But most of the prosperity of the Blair years has been preserved, in a better country and a more resilient economy.
I am grateful to Queen Mary Labour students (and the couple of Conservatives* who attended an admirably open meeting) for prompting me to clarify my thoughts.
Not only that, I was presented with a limited edition Queen Mary Red Mug, of which I am very proud.
*Typically, perhaps, one of the Tories, the chair of the Conservative Society, was a great admirer of Blair; the other was not.Tagged in: contemporary history, tony blair
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