There are, naturally, a variety of different views on the exact moment that Tony Blair's megalomania reached its peak. For me, it would be hard to beat the barking mad "forces of conservatism" speech, in which he defined progressivism as comprising himself and anyone who agreed with him, and "the forces of conservatism" as comprising absolutely anyone who took issue with Blairism, regardless of whether they did so from a conservative, liberal, nationalist or radical left perspective. The differences between these people were as nothing compared to the fact that they all opposed Blairism - therefore they were all exactly the same.
I think it says something about any individual when you realise that they listened to that speech and didn't think "OK, poor Tone's finally lost it", but instead nodded quietly to themselves and thought "what a truly fabulous point". Terrifyingly, it's now become clear that Stephen Daisley - who I and a number of other SNP supporters have maintained a degree of admiration for - falls firmly into that category.
"Blair in government was an enemy of conservatives of the left and of the right, and to this day boasts an opposition coalition of Trots, Eurosceptics, homophobes, Saddam groupies, the Daily Mail, Scottish and Welsh Nationalists, the Countryside Alliance, and people who think New York stockbrokers had it coming. Unlikely bedfellows, you might suppose, but all share contempt for Blair’s liberal cosmopolitan worldview, with its open societies, blurred identities, and moral universalism."
When you read something like that, it's very hard not to wonder whether Stephen's claim to be unsure of how to vote in May was something of an affectation, one that he put on because he didn't want to look totally out of tune with the mood of the moment. Surely to goodness he didn't set aside the loyalties of his beloved grandfather to even consider voting for a party that he regards as "conservative", and is quite happy to mention in the same breath as homophobes and Ba'athists?
The good news is that Stephen is rapidly establishing himself as one of this country's finest comic talents since Stanley Baxter. The bad news is that his serious articles are now outpacing his satire in that respect. Exhibit A -
"If you incline to the political left, [Blair's] is not a legacy to defend. It’s a legacy to hoist on your shoulders and carry through every street in the land with songful joy and pride unbecoming."
Well, I'm on the political left, and it has to be said I've fallen somewhat short on the "songful joy when talking about Blair" front, so let's go through some of Stephen's specific examples and see whether I've been getting it all wrong.
"What’s a right-winger not to like about Tony Blair? How about introducing a minimum wage, tax credits, the Human Rights Act, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and civil partnerships?"
Blair downgraded Labour's minimum wage policy - if John Smith hadn't died, it would have been set at a higher level. Its introduction did represent significant progress, but it's meaningless to call it a Blair achievement without putting it firmly in that context.
Tax credits - fair enough.
The Human Rights Act - I don't know enough about internal Labour politics of the time to judge how much credit Blair (who loved nothing better than to castigate "libertarian nonsense") really deserves for the Human Rights Act, which appears so out of sync with his own authoritarian beliefs. But, yes, it was a progressive achievement of the government he led.
The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly - forget it, Stephen. He inherited the commitment to devolution from all five of his immediate predecessors, and was utterly unenthusiastic about it. He only proceeded because he knew there would be civil war in the party if he did anything else.
Civil partnerships - fair enough.
"Nor were traditionalists keen on his ban on fox-hunting, repeal of Section 28, and removal of most of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords."
Hmmm. Nor was HE especially keen on "his" ban on fox-hunting - he dragged his feet on it for years, using opposition in the House of Lords as an excuse (complete rubbish, because the Parliament Act could have been invoked to overrule the Lords at a much earlier stage). As on so many things, his instinct was to reach a compromise on hunting with (ironically) the forces of conservatism, but he eventually resigned himself to his backbenchers' unyielding determination to see it through for real.
Repeal of Section 28 - fair enough.
Removal of most of the hereditary peers - well, those words give the game away, don't they? He not only downgraded his predecessor's policy on Lords reform, he ultimately downgraded his own policy, and allowed many of the hereditaries to stay. Why? Again, it was because his instinct was to tack towards the forces of conservatism whenever a dispute arose. He wanted to be seen to compromise in a gentlemanly fashion with that splendid Lord Cranborne, even though there was absolutely no political need to do so. And remember - he sold his timid proposal to the party as a tactically brilliant "Stage 1" reform that was a necessary prerequisite for the much more radical "Stage 2" which would follow shortly afterwards. That never materialised, and yet we're now being invited by Stephen to rejoice in Stage 1 as an end in itself.
"British nationalists were less than enthusiastic about the peace he brokered in Northern Ireland and the Bloody Sunday inquiry he established."
The Blair government's achievement in Northern Ireland was extraordinary, but it wouldn't have happened if John Major hadn't paved the way for it. You really do have to wonder what Blair's attitude to Sinn Fein would have been if Major hadn't normalised the idea of making overtures towards them. Would Blair have spoken of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in much the same way that he did of Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic? It scarcely seems outlandish to suppose that he might have done, given the way that his fellow travellers are currently demonising Jeremy Corbyn for simply having dialogue with Sinn Fein in the 1980s.
"the most successful leader in the history of the Labour Party"
Debatable, at best. Harold Wilson won four elections out of five. Blair only fought three, and won all of them - but the last of those was on a pathetic 35% share of the vote. Wilson's lowest share was 37% in February 1974 (he got 43% even when he was defeated in 1970). Clement Attlee also easily outshines Blair with the share of the vote he received in the five elections he fought as leader, even though he only won two of them.
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Without question, my favourite bit of the BBC's Scottish Labour leadership debate was Ken Macintosh's intriguing explanation that Labour MPs made a mistake by not voting against the Welfare Bill, but that it would have been much better if none of them at all had voted against it, rather than only some of them - because that way they could have made clear that they were opposing it by not voting against it.
Sure, Ken. Whatever you say.