Blair's Resignation The End of the Tony Show

He made serious mistakes, and is one of the most controversial politicians of his generation -- but also one of the most successful. On Thursday British prime minister, Tony Blair, announced that he is to retire on June 27, just over 10 years after his 1997 landslide victory. His legacy to Great Britain will be immense.

By Sebastian Borger in London


British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie leave the Trimdon Labour club after announcing he will step down.
AP

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie leave the Trimdon Labour club after announcing he will step down.

The long wait is finally over: On Thursday British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced his resignation as leader of the Labour Party, which will take effect on June 27. In doing so, he has launched a process that will also see him leave 10 Downing Street seven weeks from now. The most successful Labour Party leader ever, who won three elections in a row, first announced his decision to his cabinet on Thursday morning. He then flew to his constituency in County Durham in northern England, the heartland of the old workers' movement that gave rise to the Labour Party, a party Blair's New Labour has little or nothing in common with.

His Sedgefield constituency bears little resemblance to the area where he originally launched his political career in 1983 as a young London-based lawyer. Fifteen years of uninterrupted growth have left their mark -- with renovated schools, repaired streets and a new hospital -- on a region that had fallen victim to poverty and misery in the 1980s after the coal mines were closed.

Blair's New Labour government didn’t create the boom. The Conservative Party, or Tories, had laid the groundwork with the brutal, painful reforms carried out under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. But in the 10 years since that first landslide victory, Blair and his designated successor finance minister, Gordon Brown, have wisely administered the precious legacy they inherited.

Improved Living Standards for Millions

Britain has maintained its economic dynamism, which has benefited from historically low interest rates, lower inflation and almost full employment. That has given Labour the opportunity to help the poor: with the introduction of a minimum wage, state benefits for low earners and fiscal redistribution.

There are 68 billionaires living on the island, and according to the Sunday Times, the 1,000 richest families have a total value of around €529 billion ($715 billion). At the same time there are 1.5 million fewer children living under the poverty line than in 1997, and the living standard of millions of pensioners has been dramatically improved.

The situation in Great Britain's one remaining trouble spot, Northern Ireland, has also changed greatly. On Tuesday the representative of radical Protestantism, fundamentalist preacher Ian Paisley, and the Catholic former IRA commander, Martin McGuiness, formed a regional government in Belfast. The British prime minister will now go down in the history books as one of the great peacemakers.

Cool Britannia

Blair can leave Downing Street with his head held high, says Matthew Taylor, who worked as one of the prime minister's closest advisors until the end of 2006: "There's no question in my mind that Britain is a more confident and a better, stronger, country now than it was 10 years ago."

Alice Miles, a columnist for the London Times, described the attitude towards life in the Blair's Britain: "Whether you bought into Cool Britannia or not, we are a hell of a lot cooler than we were ten years ago."

The youthful leader of the opposition, David Cameron, is popular in opinion polls and has already been successful in local elections, largely because he doesn’t fight the old lost battles of the past. Education policy, the National Health Service, the question of the Bank of England's independence -- these are all areas where Cameron accepts Labour's reforms and in so doing gives added legitimacy to Blair's government policies.

In the same way that the legendary "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher's influence was still felt at least ten years after she left office, it is certain that Blair's policies will live on long after he leaves Downing Street.

Blair's Mistakes

That, unfortunately, is also true when it comes to his policies toward the European Union. Instead of placing Britain in the "heart of Europe" and adopting the euro, Blair let himself be cowed by both a largely Euroskeptic public and an anti-EU press, in particular those publications owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Blair committed three other mistakes that will overshadow his political legacy:

The first has its roots in the period just before he took over as party leader in 1994. Instead of openly competing for the leadership after the sudden death of John Smith, Blair guaranteed his friend Gordon Brown that he would give him the powerful position of Chancellor of the Exchequer, or finance minister, in exchange for withdrawing his candidacy, as well as almost unchecked influence over domestic policy. This forced marriage of the two most talented politicians of their generation was to hinder rather enhance the New Labour government. The lack of clarity prevented Labour from governing more purposefully.

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