The Blair years
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.