The Blair years

Blog 9 Comments

Having worked for the Labour Party and the Government I hope I can be forgiven being a little emotional. Strictly in my capacity as a former Number 10 advisor I will today do my share of media commentary on the Blair 10 years.

The key question is whether Tony Blair passes on a better country than he inherited?

Labour's argument is that 10 years ago we saw economic recession as a cyclical inevitability, public services were threadbare with crumbling hospitals, lengthy waiting lists and hundreds of failing schools, and poverty among pensioners and families with children was high and rising.

Certainly much of this seems to have changed. And there have been other aspects of progress including improvements ranging from child care and support to working parents to new rights for gay and disabled people to the urban renaissance in places from Inverness to Bristol, from Leeds to Cardiff.

Over any 10 year period there will be also be mistakes. I would pick out the culture of spin and command and control, the failure to drive reform when the extra public service investment first came on stream, the corrosive bickering of those who claimed to speak for Brown and Blair.

Ask commentators from Europe or America and they will say that Britain is a success story. Even internationally the disaster of Iraq has to be set against the UK's leadership role on Africa and climate change.

But ultimately Blair's legacy will depend on whether his successors build on his record. Gordon Brown and David Cameron will distance themselves from the less popular aspects of New Labour but no one is arguing for a fundamental shift from the progressive centre ground on which Tony Blair pitched his big tent.

And this is the opportunity for the RSA. As a determinedly independent organisation it is easier for us to engage and speak to a wide audience at a time of ideological convergence.

Ed Miliband responded positively to my inaugural speech on 'pro-social' behaviour and then, last week, David Cameron was here at the RSA talking about the relevance of the idea to the direction he wants to take his Party.

Some people will dislike what they will see as a soggy consensus, but in enabling politics to move beyond old political and policy dichotomies and to start asking more fundamental question about the kind of society we want to live in and the kind of citizens we need to be.

Tony Blair provides a fruitful context for the RSA to become a powerful source of ideas which can engage people of all parties and none.

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  • Is my experience typical I wonder...delighted to be asked to join the RSA last year and was quite inspired by the concept of the RSA, came to the new fellows evening when you had just been in the job a week and met some fascinating people. Since then I confess all I've done is read the journal (very interesting on the whole), attended a new fellows lunch. Since then a number of events in Birmingham have clashed with other engagements and I feel that I should be doing more to get involved but genuinely feel at a loss as to how to do so constructively. Cleary there has been an historical London focus and although the Midlands group has events I would like to see some of the dynamism that you have clearly brought to the events that you describe in this Blog to other parts of the UK. I'm sure that there are fellows wanting to get involved more but seemingly without the focus that the John Adams Building and staff can bring this may be difficult. I'm just reading "naked conversations" on the power of blogging so look forward to seeing where this goes...! Liz

  • As a recent Fellow, I blogged on the zeitgeist debate here

    My 'experience' so far? Really good email prompts / reminders, and have loved the lunchtime lectures as a way of bringing non RSA people here, and doing something very different and thought provoking from a routine business lunch. Great reception, great restaurant, great library, indifferent bar / cafe (to which Leon is prime competition now).

    But yes Liz, it feels like a London thing. Maybe live vodcasting of some of the debates? But no real substitute for being there I guess.

  • You echo the thoughts of many Fellows I've talked to recently and we are listening.

    Work has started on developing new opportunities for Fellows to engage in our work, particularly at community level.

    We are very keen to capture ideas from Fellows and get their response to ours.

    So will be in touch shortly when plans start to firm up.

    Thanks, Susan

    Susan Butler
    Head of Marketing & Communications

  • Matthew
    I believe you have a very valuable resource in the Council, which could help with replicating all the great things that happen on London in the regions. Many council members are also regional members. Why not charge us with being your/RSA ambassadors into the regions? What do other Council members think?
    Helen Westropp
    RSA Council member

  • Helen,

    I absolutely agree.

    Indeed a letter is soon winging its way to Council members proposing precisely this.


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