La par(ab)ola politica di Tony Blair
Ecco, nelle parole dell’Economist, la parabola politica di Tony Blair, dopo un decennio da Primo Ministro:
May 2nd 2007
After a decade, Britain’s prime minister is set to go
WITHIN weeks Britain will have a new prime minister. If anyone still had doubts, on Tuesday May 1st Tony Blair said that he will shortly be leaving office, almost certainly to be replaced by his finance minister, Gordon Brown. He will announce the exact date next week, after the furore over this week’s local elections (when the ruling Labour Party will be thumped) has passed.
Precisely ten years ago, to the cheers of an assembled crowd, bright-eyed Mr Blair walked into Downing Street as the youngest prime minister since 1812. His political nickname, at the time, was Bambi. He had ended a Conservative hegemony—the Tories had ruled uninterrupted for 18 years—that had proved unhealthy even for the Conservatives.
By then, Mr Blair already had one of his most striking achievements under his belt, having changed his party from being a creature with some old and embarrassing socialist tics to one that professed to favour free trade, markets and wealth creation. Britain could have both an efficient economy and well-funded schools and hospitals, he said.
Labour stuck to Conservative spending plans for its first few years, shrinking the share of GDP devoted to government spending, something that Conservative tax-cutters dreamed of doing. The Bank of England won its independence, taking the power to manipulate interest rates away from unscrupulous politicians. Mr Blair’s own stock rose. As the most natural political speaker for decades, his approval-ratings soared after an ashen-faced peroration on the death of Princess Diana in 1997.
But there was not much of substance in Mr Blair’s first term. Worse, his government got into the habit of announcing bold new initiatives that were anything but, and then announcing them again a few months later. Everything was done with the aim of winning the next election. In the process, Labour acquired a reputation for creative news management that proved damaging later.
A second election victory duly came, over lacklustre opposition. Mr Brown had made more money available for public services by borrowing a lot and finding imaginative ways (“stealth taxes” said critics) to raise revenue. Abroad, Mr Blair had successful military campaigns to end wars in Kosovo and Sierra Leone behind him, and a clear view that Britain should use its limited clout to make the world safer. He was at the apex of his power.
Instinctively he stood by America after the 2001 terrorist attacks, again finding the right words to express sympathy with the old ally across the Atlantic. All democracies must unite, he said, and Britain would “not rest until this evil is driven from our world.” Britain promptly joined the invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban. As with the earlier interventions, this one appeared to make the world safer. The mooted invasion of Iraq, to remove Saddam Hussein and impose democracy, seemed to Mr Blair to be the same sort of operation. After trying to persuade the United Nations, he won the support of his own House of Commons with the greatest speech he has given there.
Four years on, the misery in Iraq colours everything Mr Blair has done. How that bit of the world looks in a decade or two will determine his place in history. In the short term, it has proven to be a huge burden. Mr Blair’s authority at home has been undermined. His ability to re-shape the welfare state, for example, has been severely limited. Abroad, it has been harder to contemplate other interventions, for example to stop mass slaughter in Darfur, in Sudan. The suspicion that Mr Blair misled voters over Iraq has become an accusation of bad faith that has been impossible to shake off. By now a common nickname for the prime minister was “Bliar”.
His departure from Downing Street will be not be accompanied with flag-wavers, but by the findings of a police investigation into the funding of the Labour Party. Yet he is choosing when to go, a rarity in British politics. He does have real achievements to point to, not least in helping to bring peace and political reconciliation to Northern Ireland. And the two men who may succeed him, Mr Brown and then, possibly, David Cameron of the Conservative Party , both borrow heavily from Mr Blair. For all his mistakes, miscalculations and disappointments, he can claim that he has refashioned British politics in his own image.