Tony Blair saved the British Labor Party from self-destruction. He rescued its future when he became leader in 1994, and moved it away from its constitutional socialism to the type of New Democrat-style centrist-liberalism championed by Bill Clinton. It was largely Blair’s modernization of the party—pulling it away from the domineering control of the country’s obstinate labor unions—that was responsible for its landslide victory in 1997 and for its continuing governance of the country today.
But by the time Tony Blair resigned last year, his approval ratings had sunk and his friends were few. The conventional wisdom reads that Blair’s support for the Iraq War and his closeness to President Bush is to blame. This may be true, and if it is, it says much about the British electorate, seeing that their country has not seen an international statesman of Blair’s character since Churchill.
Michael Gove, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a prolific writer, had a piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal arguing that for all of Blair’s faults, his successor Gordon Brown’s mishandling of several key foreign policy issues ought to make Laborites pine for the old days. Brown has made clear his attempt to distance himself from Blair’s freedom agenda, appointing individuals like Mark Malloch Brown to key Foreign Office posts and deploying his international development secretary to Washington to warn against dependence on “military might.” Most ridiculous have been the British government’s secret attempts to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan—a rebel force conducting an insurgency against a coalition force comprising 8,000 British servicemen—allegations that Brown has denied. It’s hard not to agree with Gove’s conclusion:
And so Mr. Blair’s judgment has been vindicated on another issue as well—his succession. We can all understand now why he tried, for as long as possible, to avoid handing over power to his flawed No. 2.