Blair Continues to Cast a Long Shadow over British Politics

Image source: The Guardian

Published in The Huffington Post on Wednesday, 25th July, 2012.

Following Parliament’s break-up for the summer recess, BBC Radio 4’s This Week in Westminster interviewed former Chancellor Lord Lawson to give the Conservative Party its end-of-year report card.

Lord Lawson added his name to the long list of figures calling for George Osborne to focus his attention on the Treasury and give up his role as chief Tory strategist. He also suggested that Cameron’s leadership style is one of the reasons behind the current uneasy relationship between the Conservative Parliamentary Party and its leader.

He remarked: “David Cameron has modelled himself very much on the Blair style (of long term premiership). I think that the Conservative backbenchers prefer the Thatcher style and I think that is an underlying reason for a certain tension.”

By sheer coincidence, the interview was aired on the eighteenth anniversary of Blair being elected leader of the Labour Party. Following the untimely death of the great John Smith, Blair became Leader of the Opposition on 21 July 1994.

Three general election victories later (and five years after he left Downing Street), Tony Blair’s influence continues to be felt across the political landscape. The current generation of politicians are defined, either favourably or unfavourably, against Blair.

Of course, Lawson’s comparison between Cameron and Blair is nothing new. Many commentators have noted the similarities and the PM is even reported to have described himself as the “heir to Blair” in 2005.

Whilst Cameron has inherited some of Blair’s communication skills, he lacks both his political mastery and strategic vision. Beyond deficit reduction, the ailing Prime Minster has been unable to provide a meaningful blueprint for the country. Nor has he been able to demonstrate adequate leadership of his own party in the way that Blair did so successfully in the early years.

The man most acutely aware of Blair’s legacy is Ed Miliband. Despite famously declaring “I’m not Tony Blair” and claiming that New Labour was dead, Miliband seems to be warming to his predecessor. After appearing together at the Emirates Stadium recently, Miliband announced that Blair will advise the Labour Party on sports policy in the wake of the Olympics.

Labour may be riding high in the polls, but his own personal rating is lagging far behind. Miliband needs Blair’s input if he is going to overcome this.

Blair is still relatively young. At the age of 59 he clearly wants to re-establish a significant role in British politics. He has stepped up his plans to re-engage by taking part in a series of interviews and personal appearances. The timing is no accident. It is a deliberate ploy to rehabilitate his image by reminding people that it was his government that brought the Olympics to London.

Having Blair back centre stage is a striking reminder of the talent-deficit in the current generation of political leaders.

Westminster is now dominated by the little men of British politics. No-one – not Cameron, not Miliband and certainly not Clegg – seems able to come close to the former Prime Minister, and (barring a radical change in the status quo) they all appear destined to remain in his shadow.

2 Comments

  1. Blair returning to politics could be a disaster for Ed Miliband! To poison his image with the Iraq/Afghanistan baggage that Tony Blair carries would be fatal. Definitely agree that the current crop is nowhere near the heights that TB achieved, however EM does not want to become guilty by association.

  2. In terms of the potential impact on Ed Miliband, I think it could actually work in his favour. He needs to demonstrate that he is above the tribal infighting that characterised New Labour’s period in office and show that both he and the party has moved on. He can strengthen his own position by bringing the ‘Blairites’ in from the cold.

    At least, that is the theory behind – personally, I don’t necessarily think it will work.

    As for ‘guilt by association’, dont believe all the negative coverage that Blair gets in the media. It is not a true reflection of his actual standing. Sure there are loads who cant stand him, but he also has a certain affection for a lot of people too. A recent Guardian / ICM poll found that, despite everything, Labour would only lose a few points if Blair was to come back as leader. That is a mind-blowing stat given his media coverage.

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