As Tony Blair set out his reasoning for the Iraq War, many commentators stepped back and asked what his legacy would be. Will history really be kinder to the former Prime Minister? He has, after all, won three General Elections, pushed the UK into the 21st Century and helped turn Labour into a ruthless vote winning force. However, it is unlikely that any of this will be remembered. As the memory of Blair’s Britain dies, one event will remain etched in the memory of the public; the Iraq War. If he had decided to veto the proposal of intervention against Saddam Hussein, it is likely Blair would be remembered as one of the best modern-day Prime Ministers to have reigned over Britain. Instead, Mr Blair will tragically be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
After John Smiths death in 1994, it was clear that Labour needed a vibrant and energetic leader to continue the work he had started. It became increasingly clear that one of two Labour young guns would take the leadership; Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. In a famous meeting dubbed the ‘Granita Pact’, Brown agreed to leave the way clear for Blair in return for allowing him to be the most powerful Chancellor in modern times. Furthermore, Blair agreed to step down in the event of Labour winning a second term. Tony Blair would go on to regret this deal in the years ahead. As Tony Blair took over the reins at Labour, it marked a significant shift in British politics. Although John Smith had regularly enjoyed large poll leads over the governing Conservative party, Blair took it to the next level. At one point being over 40 points clear of the Conservatives, it was clear that Tony Blair had took the nation by storm. He was quickly established as the ‘King of Soundbites’ as various Labour announcements resonated with the wider public. In the 1997 General Election he stormed to office in a way that has never been seen before. Under the ‘New Labour’ banner, the Labour party won a majority of 179, which is their biggest majority to date, gaining over 43% of the vote. As Blair swept into Downing Street, he claimed that the party had ‘Won as New Labour and will govern as New Labour.’ Tony Blair had won over the centre-ground and finally helped deliver a Labour Government.
As Tony Blair started his first term as Prime Minister, the weight of millions of peoples burning optimism rested firmly on his shoulders. However, he was to come up against his first and most challenging test; the Government machinery. The civil service was disgruntled at the change of Government and was set on opposing the radical changes that Blair had promised to deliver. After 18 years in opposition, Labour had misjudged the levers of Government, failing to comprehend that an outdated civil service would block the huge upheaval they wanted to force through. However in his first term, Blair and his Labour Government did manage to push through many of their manifesto pledges. They handed the Bank of England independence, ensuring that interest rates couldn’t be politicised. A new peace deal for Northern Ireland was delivered, paving the way for a new Parliament for the country. The National Minimum Wage was introduced, ensuring that low earners were protected from exploitation and had a safeguard from poverty. During Labours first term, there was also the first sign that Blair’s Government would take a large stance on foreign affairs. The country very nearly joined the Euro, with Blair’s support, before Gordon Brown vetoed the plan. The UK helped lead the charge against Slobodan Milošević in Serbia, leading to Tony Blair acclaiming legendary status in Kosovo. In his autobiography, Tony Blair admitted that his Government tried too much to avoid political confrontation and was determined to take tough decisions. He would soon make the toughest decision of his political life.
As Labour entered into their second term in Government, things would soon never be the same again. Only three months after winning power once again, the 9/11 attacks occurred, killing nearly 3,000 civilians in the process. It was soon revealed that Al Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden, were the perpetrators of the attack, and George W Bush was soon out for revenge. Only a month after the tragic events at the World Trade Centre, the ‘War on Terror’ had started, ultimately leading to the toppling of the Taliban led administration. Little over two years later and Saddam Hussein had been captured, only to be executed in 2006. This brutal and bloody war was to take around 112,000 lives, of which 179 were British soldiers. Around 4 million Iraqi civilians were displaced, leading to a huge humanitarian crisis. The country of Iraq was pushed into chaos, with it becoming an economic and cultural ruin. It would be easy enough to lay all the blame of this terrible war at the hands of Bush and Blair. After all, they did sanction the military intervention. Despite this, it would be hard to argue that the world isn’t a better place without Saddam Hussein in power. When he took over, Iraq was richer than Portugal and Malaysia. At the time of his disposal, the majority of Iraqis depended on food aid for survival. Due to proper immunisation and nutrition of children, up to 60,000 lives were saved due to intervention. The Iraq war will, however, always be remembered as a grave mistake, with no proper restructuring plan and naïve judgement surrounding the consequences. For Tony Blair, it will not lead to a trial at The Hague but it will lead to a tarnished legacy.
The domestic side of Blair’s second term was business as usual. As the Conservatives bickered between themselves and struggled to offer a viable alternative, Labour kept a healthy lead in the opinion polls and never looked in danger of being removed from Government. Large reforms to the NHS were introduced, with a larger role for private firms within the health sector. Education changes occurred too, with tuition fees being introduced, breaking a vital manifesto pledge and leading to large-scale demonstrations. Tony Blair even became Labours longest-serving Prime Minister, surpassing Clement Attlee’s record. However, the Iraq War loomed over all the successes of this Government and would continue to do so in Labour’s third-term in Government.
In 2005, Tony Blair led Labour to a historic third-term, albeit on a reduced majority. Before the election, the Prime Minister had announced he would serve for a full Parliament before stepping down. However, as Brownites became agitated, it became increasingly clear that Tony Blair would not be serving a full term as Prime Minister. That promise to Gordon Brown all those years ago had come back to bite him as his Chancellor demanded a switch-over process. Mr Blair ensured he pushed through several reforms before he left, trying to leave a credible legacy. He helped land the Olympics in London, ensuring a huge sporting event would finally be hosted by Britain. Huge educational reforms continued, including the creation of trust schools. A new splurge of PFI deals commenced, including the extension of foundation hospitals. In the 2006 Labour Conference Tony Blair announced he would step down in the next year as leader of the party and Prime Minister of the nation. He formally left as Prime Minister on the 27th June 2007, leaving British politics on the same day. He fought for two years to rebuild his legacy. He fought and he failed.
It will soon be ten years since Tony Blair resigned as Prime Minister and there is no signs of his reputation ever rebuilding. He is vilified from the left for not sticking by ‘Labour values’, as well as creating a war that should never have been. He is despised on the right for creating a bloated welfare state and locking the Tories out of power for 13 years. However, it didn’t have to be this way. Mr Blair helped revolutionise Britain, dragging it into the 21st century. He made sweeping reforms to education and health, creating state of the art facilities for all. By introducing several new schemes and reforms, poverty plummeted under the Blair administration. His charisma and style helped lead Labour to three General Election victories in a row, a feat that has never been seen before. History books will never report that. They will instead focus on Britain’s greatest foreign policy failure; the Iraq war. Without it, Blair may have been known as the best Prime Minister of the century. Instead, his legacy and reputation is tarnished, history will never look kinder upon Tony Blair.