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Tony Blair's legacy

01 October 2006

When Blair is finally dragged out of Downing Street and his fingers are unprised from the door jamb, the media will be awash with reports of Blair's legacy. Many of these will be rose-tinted (remember when Thatcher left?). It's true that he made the Labour Party electable for the first time in years, but he did that by turning it into the Conservative Party. It's true also that he transformed the art of politics, but he did that by turning it into a battle of spin doctors. With traditional Labour principles scrapped and no replacement ideology, there is no political debate left. Just a squabble over whose turn it is next to run the country. Blair turned politics into the art of projecting personality.

Here's what I think of as Blair's legacy. I wanted to write this when he left, but frankly I can't wait that long.

Blair's legacy (in no particular order):

  1. Policy without any guiding ideology that results in muddled thinking: such as extending pub licensing hours while banning smoking in public.

  2. Introduction of on-the-spot fines issued by police (see Spot fines for anti-social behaviour, BBC News). This erodes the concept of separation of powers, by effectively making police judge and jury on selected crimes.

  3. Banning the right to protest near parliament without permission. (see Parliament protester to fight ban, BBC News). This is a significant infringement of freedom of speech and a direct indication of Blair's contempt for the electorate.

  4. Introduction of Antisocial behaviour orders (ASBOs). This is a back door for creating imprisonable offences that only apply to specific individuals. The BBC lists examples of ASBOs, and Redpepper has a good analysis. ASBOs can be created against individuals without needing evidence 'beyond reasonable doubt'. Breaching the ASBO can be an imprisonable offence, even if the behaviour that the ASBO seeks to restrict is not.

  5. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIP), giving government agencies the right to monitor anybody's communications data without a search warrant (see The RIP Act, The Guardian). This law reverses the age-old maxim of 'innocent until proven guilty'. A computer user could be be imprisoned for up to two years for failing to provide decryption keys.

  6. ID Cards. These are on the back-burner for now, but threaten to be a massive state invasion of citizen privacy, massively expensive, and with no benefit to the tax payer. It's been suggested that ID Cards will somehow stop terrorists. No credible examples of how have been provided in support of this claim.

  7. Introduction of student top-up fees, breaching a Labour Party manifesto promise that Labour 'will not introduce top-up fees and has legislated against them' (see Timeline: tuition fees, The Guardian and the Liberal Democrats' Scrap Tuition Fees Campaign).

  8. Sleaze. After Blair promised on his election that his government would be 'whiter than white', there has been widespread accusation that the Labour Party had been accepting loans it never intended to repay to avoid having to declare them as donations, and rewarding donors with honours (see Cash for honours inquiry stepped up, the Guardian). Oh, and all the Blunkett and Mandelson reincarnations were pretty sleazy too. Saying (in 2001) that the government wouldn't raise income tax and then putting a penny on NI instead was pretty underhand as well. This bullet could be an article in itself...

  9. Launching air strikes against Afghanistan (see Timeline: Afghanistan, BBC News) for refusal to hand over one terrorist suspect.

  10. The Iraq War. An illegal invasion, prosecuted using lies (Iraq could attack us in 45 minutes?) and a dodgy ripped-off report. They didn't even count the civilian casualties. No credible evidence of weapons of mass destruction has been found. Iraq, now on the brink of civil war, is a mess that will long outlive Blair's tenure.

The dismantling of civil liberties is a particular concern because it creates such wide-ranging powers for the state. While the present government might be considered by many to be mostly harmless, Blair has granted all future governments rights that can be easily abused to suppress the population or large sections of it. This is grossly irresponsible.

Nearly ten years on, it's tempting to think back to the 'New Labour, New Danger' campaign that defined the 1997 election.

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For the avoidance of any confusion, I don't represent any of the organisations mentioned above.

Phew! And I didn't even call him Bliar once. Oops. There I go...


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