THE debate about Tony Blair’s talents, contribution and legacy will no doubt rage for weeks, months and even years to come. But now that the Prime Minister has finally announced his departure date after the longest goodbye in modern political history, it’s time to look to the future, not the past.
Certainly, it is hard to argue with former Minister Alan Milburn’s assessment that ten years of a Blair Government has fundamentally changed the country for the better . . . though it has to be said that after 18 years of Tory rule by Margaret Thatcher and John Major, things could hardly have got worse.
Labour’s successes have included the introduction of the minimum wage; a well managed economy; a massive investment in public services; instigating legislation to allow civil partnerships; peace in Northern Ireland and devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.
On the minus side, the Blair years have seen too much emphasis on spin; an erosion of civil liberties; Labour’s own sleaze trauma in the shape of the cash for honours inquiry; the rise of PFIs and, of course, a flawed foreign policy agenda, the final cost of which remains to be calculated.
According to the latest opinion polls, the Iraq conflict and Mr Blair’s apparent close affinity with President Bush will tarnish his reputation as Labour’s consummate politician and the man who made the party electable again.
So ‘Prime Minister in waiting’ Gordon Brown will, quite properly, waste no time in demonstrating that changes in foreign policy style and substance will take place when he takes over this summer. While it was by no means clear when the News went to press that there would be a challenger to Mr Brown from the left of the party, we share the view that a contest would be helpful and desirable.
Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats benefitted by having a debate about their future direction in recent years and a contested election with the focus on policies and debate can only assist Labour in building up its membership after the decline in numbers precipitated by unpopular Government policy initiatives.
For Mr Brown, the hard work starts now as he attempts to broaden Labour’s appeal and get the Party and Government in shape to win a fourth term at the next general election, which will now be held at the time of his choosing.
Co-op Party members and Co-op Movement movers and shakers will get an early opportunity to assess Mr Brown’s leadership qualities and potential when he attends a special ‘Co-ops for Gordon’ event at the Co-operative Group’s New Century House headquarters this week.
This long-standing Co-operative Party member and lead patron of Mutuo has waited a long time to fulfil his political destiny as the country’s first co-operatively inclined Prime Minister and it will be a fitting tribute to the Party if, as expected, he takes over in its 90th anniversary year.
News readers will join us in wishing Britain’s most successful Chancellor of the Exchequer the very best of luck for the future.