The Blair years

May 11, 2007 by
Filed under: Politics 

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.



  • Philip Andrews

    Re the Blair years and today on the “Politics Show” with the early massive majority Labour had you should have seen off the Daily Mail and the other right wing papers in the first few days of government.The reason for the public’s perception of things being bad when they are good is down to these newspapers.

    The press will systematically undermine any Labour government. Always has always will. You have to ignore them but instead many rapid rebuttals and policy changes were made to please them thinking they represented what the country was thinking. What you should have done is not kept pandering to them and dragged the nation back up the time tunnel rather than go back half a century which is what they wanted to do all the time.

  • Justin Souter


    I’ve been reading a number of posts, and I agree absolutely with your point about administrative assistance.

    I agree and support your drive to increase the role of Fellows as “social activists” but our experience in the NE has been that it’s difficult to keep up momentum and focus when we only have a chance to meet infrequently etc.

    I’m concerned that any initiatives Fellows pick up will fizzle out because people can only give their time on a sporadic basis (due to other commitments etc.)

    speak soon, Justin

  • Jan Brady

    Dear Liz,

    Why not consider participating in the RSA’s Coffeehouse Challenge this year?

    The Coffeehouse Challenge provides an excellent opportunity for you, as a Fellow of the RSA, to truly get involved.

    It is a community-based initiative designed to encourage Fellows and other individuals to come together and discuss local issues with a view to deliberating and fleshing out solutions.

    The conversations have value in themselves in terms of fostering networks and building community ties but we are encouraging participants this year to focus on turning their ideas into action, to make real change in their communities.

    You can get more information on our website – – and see what you think?

    Best wishes


  • Lynn Broadbent

    Here in the US we are looking forward to increased support from London to enable us to optimize all available opportunities to enhance the RSA’s core mission. We are committed to helping the RSA become a truly global organization. While blogging and podcasting are one way to increase the RSA’s international reach, as someone said above, there is no real substitute for being there. See you soon!

  • Matthew Taylor


    I absolutely agree.

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


  • Helen Westropp

    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

  • Susan Butler

    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

  • Iain

    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.

  • Liz Sewell

    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