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Blair's legacy

What will Tony Blair leave behind as his economic and social policy legacy? LSE academics offer some comments.

Blair at home and abroad

Rodney Barker
Tony Blair is a tantalising variant on the long serving leader. There is a familiar path, from initial caution and inclusiveness, to a growing sense of mission and special insights, and the escalating delusion which is the other side of the arrogance of power. There seldom comes a point when a political leader believes that it is time for them to go. The very opposite tends to happen, and the longer they are in office, the more entrenched their sense of their own unique understanding of what needs to be done, and how it should be done becomes. Blair's version of this reluctance to go was unusual, in that whilst he was clearly reluctant to leave government to others, he compromised by saying that he would not serve a fourth term, but that he would not go yet. That was considered by many the worst of all ways of doing things, raising expectations of his departure without satisfying hopes of his replacement.

This uncertainty might not have mattered so much, but for the other major error of his premiership, the support of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq. Up until then, whilst Blair had his critics, his was one of the most successful and innovative British governments of the last hundred years. Major constitutional reforms had been carried through, or at least begun: the incorporation of the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights in British law, the partial reform of the House of Lords, the establishment of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, elected mayors in major British cities including the restoration of a government to London and, days before the announcement of his retirement, a power sharing executive in Northern Ireland with the two poles of politics sitting together in Stormont. At the same time a substantial commitment to health and education and a statutory minimum wage marked a commitment to the material well-being of the people. In foreign affairs, liberal intervention in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, and a pushing of Africa up the international agenda, seemed to presage a sound record of responsible world statesmanship.

In due time, all of this will be given proper credit. But in the short term, it is the decision to join the US Republican government's war in Iraq, a decision still incomprehensible to many, and the manner in which it was justified to parliament and the electorate, that will cloud Tony Blair's reputation. The widespread sense that not only was the invasion disastrous for Iraq and for the whole middle East, but that it had been carried through with deception, lowered confidence in the probity not only of the prime minister but, however unfairly, in that of politicians in general. So, to a lowering of the reputation of the United Kingdom in many parts of the world, and an increase in terrorism at home, was added an erosion of confidence in democratic politics.

Rodney Barker is Professor of Government at LSE
Tel: 020 7955 7168, r.s.barker@lse.ac.uk 

New Labour and the Media: Brown's media challenge

Charlie Beckett
It is one of the most majestic ironies of the New Labour years that the administration credited with the invention of spin in now threatened by a tidal wave of media hostility. Can Gordon Brown get his head back above water?

New Labour's media strategy has been well documented. The invites to tabloid editors to have dinner with Tony. The trips to speak to Murdoch's conferences on the other side of the world. The pagers, the slick party political broadcasts and, above all, Alastair Campbell. None of these were entirely new ideas in the world of political PR, but they were adopted by New Labour with a thorough-going systematic enthusiasm. This was a party determined never to re-enter the wilderness of political irrelevance. To read this full document, click here

Charlie Beckett is Director of POLIS at LSE
Tel: 020 7955 7695, c.beckett@lse.ac.uk

The Brown inheritance 

Professor Patrick Dunleavy
For the crown prince in history, waiting is the hardest part. Gordon Brown's long service as principal rival to Tony Blair's leadership of the UK's Labour party looks set to culminate in an almost unchallenged coronation as Labour leader this summer. He will then have completed more than a decade in office as chancellor of the exchequer, a record with no modern parallel, and he will be certain of at least two more years as premier before a general election in 2009. If that in turn was to go very well, his premiership would stretch to at least six or seven years in all, leaving him bestriding British political history as a modern colossus. If political conditions look bleak in 2009, Brown might hang on until 2010 with his political options closing around him, and unless something turned up in the interim he would leave office never having won a general election. For a politician who has brooded and planned so long to enter 10 Downing Street, the differences between these scenarios will matter intensely.... Click here to download full article [PDF]

This article appeared in the summer issue of the LSE Magazine, published 1 June 

Professor Patrick Dunleavy, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy and chair of the LSE Public Policy Group
Tel: 020 7955 7178, email: p.dunleavy@lse.ac.uk 

Blair: the great transformer - he made the weather

Professor George Jones
1. He transformed political discourse.
Because of Tony Blair there is no significant left-versus-right divide in British political debate. The old sectarian ideological divisions have given way to a new pragmatism that links to the interests and concerns of the British people. He pioneered the Third Way, a philosophical approach cutting through the two outdated traditions of socialism and liberalism, by fusing a social-democratic belief in social justice through collective action with a liberal belief in individual freedom in a market economy.

As a consequence:
a) The Labour party is transformed: the left is marginalised, and the main political arguments are now within new Labour, about how far it should go, whether faster and more radical.
b) The Conservative party is transformed: as David Cameron imitates Blair and appeals to the same centre ground of mainstream UK.
c) The Liberal Democrats are squeezed out, except in Celtic fringes and a few idiosyncratic areas.

2. He transformed British politics.
Blair showed how to win elections, both gaining and keeping power, in three unprecedented election victories in a row, with large majorities - a record for a Labour leader. Before Blair, the Conservatives were the party of government, in power for most of the 20th century. Now it is New Labour.

3. He transformed the British Constitution.
Blair changed more constitutionally in his ten-year term of office than in the last 300years; and in 30 years time the changes will be looked back on as a huge transformation. All was achieved without a comprehensive plan, in a British incremental way and with scope for further flexible adaptation in the years to come.

a) Devolution to Scotland and Wales, and in Northern Ireland persuading unionists and nationalist to work together, thus ending decades of bloody strife;
b) House of Lords - ejecting hereditary peers;
c) Human Rights - incorporated into British law;
d) Supreme Court established, and the judiciary separated from the executive;
e) Freedom of Information enacted;
f) Electoral reform - different proportional representational systems introduced in different sub-national elections;
g) Local government revitalised through the clear leadership of directly-elected mayors or leaders plus cabinets to break the nineteenth-century committee system.

4. He transformed the way the UK is governed.
a) Blair moved from an antiquated system of cabinet collective government to a more explicitly prime-ministerial system, with the prime minister having more administrative resources to enable him to keep track of what ministers and their departments were doing and to inject his initiatives into policy making. He reshaped the Cabinet Office and No 10 Downing Street into a larger, better-staffed and more coherent pro-active core executive, able to provide corporate leadership to central government, and he restructured the cabinet committee system to focus on his objectives.
b) Blair made the prime minister more accountable to parliament and the public: before a select committee, and through a more visible parliamentary question-time, regular press conferences, more articles in the press, more appearances on popular TV and other media outlets.
c) Blair shunned out-dated civil-service ways of conducting business, which preserved their power, to more inclusive and transparent arrangements - more informal, less stuffy and hidebound by procedures; with a wider range of talent participating; and involving more outside expertise in policy shaping.
d) Blair recognised the importance of presentation as an element in the policy-making process, and that it could not be left to civil servants to make the Government's case.
e) Blair emphasised the need for the prime minister to make an impact on how policies were implemented, moving from a limited focus on strategic policy-making that had lost touch with reality on the ground. He encompassed agencies that deliver: local authorities, boards, voluntary organisations and business, promoting the idea that a prime minister should be involved in public services, however delivered, rather than in just the civil service.

5. He transformed the economy
a) Blair achieved the most stable period of economic growth, high employment and low inflation for hundreds of years, in partnership with the Chancellor - the dynamic duo whose collaboration promoted the New Labour project, which they had forged together.
b) The minimum wage brought higher pay to many who would have languished in poverty, and without the damaging effects on employment predicted by right-wing economists.
c) Under Blair the British people have never had it so good, living longer, better fed, housed and cared for, and enjoying wide access to goods and services out of reach of earlier generations. Consumerism has triumphed over those who want producers, professionals, trades unions, paternalists and protectionists to dictate to citizens.

6. He transformed public services
a) Blair injected unprecedented resources, and extra staff, into public services, as anyone who uses the health and education services well knows, despite media campaigns to denigrate the improvements.
b) Blair drew resources from the private sector to finance new infrastructure for public services, without raising income tax, thus solving 'the fiscal crisis of the state': namely that taxpayers, while wanting better public services, were unwilling to pay higher income taxes to finance the higher standards.
c) Blair shifted the emphasis in welfare policy away from making people dependent on state handouts to making them more self-reliant, thus benefiting both them and the public generally.
d) Blair championed competition to raise efficiency and enable ordinary people to have choices over services that were previously available only to the rich and privileged.

7. He transformed foreign policy
a) Blair kept the UK as a leading international player, punching well beyond its weight, keeping close to the USA and playing a bridging role with the European Union, thus avoiding a split between the USA and Europe.
b) Blair was a major pressure making the EU look outwards, to widen its membership, and to adopt a more market-oriented approach over the Common Agricultural Policy and trade policy generally.
c) Blair was a champion of the values of democracy and human rights in the world, sending British forces to fight against havens of terrorists, against oppressive tyrants, and assisting democratic governments that sought British help. Blair stood firm against threats to Western civilisation and set an example of personal and moral courage to other governments.

8. Conclusion
Blair ranks among the great prime ministers. He created the New Labour party as a party of government and has modernised the UK. There is still much to be done, but his achievements can be criticised only by nostalgic traditionalists who deplore modern society and hark back to the so-called good old days and ways.

George Jones is Emeritus Professor of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science.
Tel: 020 7272 3519, email: g.w.jones26@btinternet.com 

Blair's Contribution and the Challenge for his Successor

Julian Le Grand
Tony Blair's principal contribution to domestic policy is twofold: his understanding of the need for market-oriented reforms of public services such as school education and the NHS, and his commitment to driving these reforms through. The understanding came from his appreciation of the failure of the model of service delivery that, until relatively recently, characterised most public services in England (and that can still be found in much of the rest of the United Kingdom). This relied upon a combination of professional trust, central command and control, and middle class voice: an uneasy mixture that resulted in long NHS waiting lists, poor exam results and other educational outcomes, and a distribution of education and health that favoured the better off. Blair realised that it was essential to have a system that embedded incentives for improvement within it, and that gave more power to the user: hence the drive for school and hospital competition, and for parent and patient choice.

Also crucial was his tenacity in persevering with the reforms, in the face of powerful opposition both within and outside the public services. And herein lies the greatest challenge to his successor. For the default position of English public services is centralisation coupled with command and control: the slightest relaxation of pressure, and it will snap back. If - to mix metaphors - his successor does take his foot off the reform pedal, he will preside over a situation where long NHS waits reappear, public education stagnates, and inequities mushroom. And that would create a crisis in the public support for those services that could be terminal.

Julian Le Grand is Richard Titmuss Professor of Social Policy at LSE and senior policy adviser to the prime minister 2003-05
Tel: 020 7955 7353, j.legrand@lse.ac.uk 

Labour's Economic Legacy

John Van Reenen
The economy is probably the most successful legacy of the Blair years. Ironically, New Labour's economic policies have been set by his heir, chancellor Gordon Brown.

Britain has enjoyed 15 years of continuous growth combined with low inflation. The labour market has absorbed large number of new entrants, especially from the wave of migration from Eastern Europe, yet unemployment has remained at historically low levels. Even on the Achilles' Heel of productivity, Britain has narrowed the gap with her major competitors and kept up with the American productivity miracle.

So why does Labour have trouble converting these economic gains into the political currency of popularity? Leaving Iraq aside, forgetfulness, fiscal policy and fairness are the main reasons.

First, the public appears to now take economic prosperity for granted. People seem more likely to give credit for success to the Thatcher reforms, the Bank of England, to being outside the Euro or to cheap Chinese imports than to the government. With the exception of globalisation, however, these were policy choices of the government. Independence of the Bank was a bold and successful early move. Overall, Labour has accepted the importance of competitive markets and labour market flexibility for economic success.

Second, Labour has significantly raised tax as a share of nation income and spent the money on public services. 'Tax and spend' is exactly what socialist governments are supposed to do, of course, but unlike previous Labour governments neither Blair nor Brown have boasted about it. Nor have they over-spent in the early years of power only to be forced by circumstances to cut back and increase taxes in later years (most notoriously in 1976 when Dennis Healey had to turn to the International Monetary Fund). The government's problem is that the public expects greater improvements in hospitals, schools and policing from their tax pounds than they have seen. It also remains to be seen if the increased length and complexity of the tax system (coupled with more labour market regulation) could undermine long-term growth.

Third, unlike the 1980s the long growth period has not been accompanied by rapidly growing inequality. There have been a panoply of redistributive policies such as the National Minimum Wage and tax credits for the low paid have reduced poverty, especially for working families. But although inequality at the bottom half of the pay scale has narrowed, inequality at the top has continued to widen. On the Left, this has lead for pressures for more aggressively re-distribution.

Blair leaves behind an economy in better shape than any previous Labour leader. But will the voters give the chancellor, the man who has overseen the current prosperity the benefit of the doubt when the next recession comes? At the moment it looks unlikely.

John Van Reenen is director of the Centre for Economic Performance and Professor of Economics, London School of Economics
Tel: 020 7955 6976, j.vanreenen@lse.ac.uk 

The Centre for Economic Performance has a number of policy analysis papers available to download

Life After Blair lecture series

LSE's Life After Blair lecture series continues on Wednesday 16 May with Alan Milburn MP giving a lecture entitled A 2020 Vision for the Public Services.

Press cuttings

Cameron's secret plan to woo the Blairites on education (28 May)
Julian Le Grand, professor of social policy at LSE, who was a key No 10 adviser in the run up to the 2005 election, said: 'I don't know what Brown is going to do, though I have been encouraged by some of the recent statements.' Professor Le Grand said he was also impressed by the Willetts speech. 'I thought it was a very thoughtful speech with a lot of solid material in it. If David Willetts becomes Education Secretary if they do get into power, that would be a good thing. [But] it won't change my vote.'

Sydney Morning Herald
Blair's legacy: don't mention the war (21 May)
Far from being the king of spin, Blair leaves on what the London School of Economics media analyst Charlie Beckett calls a 'tidal wave of media hostility'.

Ottawa Citizen
Blair says goodbye, Brown says hello (20 May)
'Tony Blair will go down in history as being a strong leader,' said Patrick Diamond, a former Downing Street adviser who is now at LSE....Inflation is running at its highest level since the 1990s.'The economy is probably the most successful legacy of the Blair years but Labour is now having trouble converting these economic gains into political popularity,' said professor John Van Reenen, LSE. 'The public appears now to take economic prosperity for granted and gives the credit to the Thatcher reforms, the Bank of England, to being outside the euro or to cheap Chinese imports rather than to the government. And Labour has raised taxes significantly as a share of national income.'
Source: Lexis Nexis News

Fund Strategy
Blair cannot claim credit for economy (14 May)
A paper by Professor John Van Reenen, director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, is a useful starting point to examine New Labour's record.

If no one is thanking Brown now, what hope is there when things get tougher? (13 May)
Writing last week, Professor John Van Reenen, director of the Centre for Economic Performance at LSE, noted the objective economic success of the past 15 years - continuous growth with low inflation - and pondered why the Government had found it so hard to convert this into political popularity.

Sunday Times
You say goodbye...and I say HELLO (13 May)
'Tony Blair will go down in history as being a strong leader,' said Patrick Diamond, a former Downing Street adviser who is now an academic at the London School of Economics.

Globe and Mail
Tony Blair: Push comes to shove (12 May)
Article includes comments from Anthony Giddens, former director of LSE.

Austin American-Statesman
Change of British guard is likely to alter US relations (12 May)
Chris Brown, an international relations professor at the London School of Economics, predicted that Brown will reduce troop levels in Iraq, a process Blair has already begun.
(Source: Lexis Nexis News)

CNS News
Ties with US could shift under Blair's expected successor (11 May)
William Wallace, an emeritus professor at the London School of Economics, said Brown was a 'natural Atlanticist' but was also uncomfortable with multilateral diplomacy, preferring to set his own course. 'For Brown, personal relations will matter a lot,' Wallace said. 'My advice to other governments will be to cultivate him as much as possible.' 

Associated Press (11 May)
Tony Blair's likely successor as British prime minister gives few clues on Iraq direction
There was a long pause when Gordon Brown was asked once whether he, like Tony Blair, would have joined the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. "Brown doesn't talk much, but when he does something he does it surprisingly and effectively," said Rodney Barker, a professor of government at the London School of Economics. Any big changes are likely to come quickly, Barker said.

Wisconsin Public Radio
At Issue with Ben Merens (10 May)
Charlie Beckett took part in a phone-in, discussing Tony Blair's announcement that he will step down as leader of the Labour Party in June.
Professor Rodney Barker also appeared on this American radio station discussing Tony Blair's leadership of the Labour party.

Bloomberg (10 May)
Blair to announce plan to retire as British prime minister
Tony Blair will today announce his plan to retire as UK prime minister once the ruling Labour Party has selected a successor, likely to be Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. He will make a statement around midday local time. 'It's the starting gun for Gordon to prove himself as independent leader,' said Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics. 'It's an epoch change in British politics.'

The Globe and Mail
Challenges await Blair's successor
Experts predict a range of populist measures in the early weeks of a Brown premiership as he seeks to woo voters back to the Labour fold. 'Expect him to come back to the Labour Party in October with some funky new ideas, such as free prescriptions on the National Health Service and free health care for the elderly,' said Patrick Dunleavy, a professor at the London School of Economics. 'I think he'll unveil some fairly left-of-centre policies which will appeal to quite a lot of people.'

Reuters (4 May)
Tough task for Blair successor after British polls
'There is going to be a certain amount of relief and interest that Tony Blair has finally disappeared,' Patrick Dunleavy, politics professor at the London School of Economics. 

Bloomberg (3 May)
Blair faces final UK election as polls suggest labour losses
Tony Blair, who's likely to announce his retirement as Britain's prime minister next week, fights his final elections today, with polls suggesting his Labour Party may be headed for defeat in local and regional votes. Article includes comments from Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at LSE.

9 May 2007 [Updated 14 May 2007]