The Legacy of Tony Blair
Not many men, even Prime Ministers or leaders of countries, can claim the position to leave a legacy. But, despite many shortcomings that he may have had, Tony Blair is one of those rare individuals who indeed can make the claim, having led Britain and the modern world to a ‘point of inflection’ in its history.
Also, it must be mentioned, legacies can not be judged at such a close range, except speculatively, as they are, by definition, meant for the posterity, and manifest themselves over a number of years. However, such speculations, at times, are worth indulging in, as in case of Mr. Blair’s, because this may impact our individual lives and the way we choose to live them in future.
Also, to be fair, it must be stated that judging a legacy is not judging a man, as legacies are seen in the context of the society, both current and future, and in the mirrors of many private lives and opinions. Any individual represents a combination of courage and frailties, a collection of varying moments each having its unique origins, contexts and consequences, and each individual needs his or her own apologists and critics to be fully judged.
All said, what does Mr. Blair leave us with, then? He, indeed, is a brilliant political strategist, who will find his place in history books with Bill Clinton as the men who did a Reagan-Thatcher act on left-of-the-centre. But, one can argue, that is not a legacy, but a tactic, employed in the context of a rapidly changing political fashion. Pragmatism was not a Blairite invention, though one may cite its rarity in the Labour politics, and credit him [or, blame him, depending on stance] with importing this eternal virtue [or, vice] into left-of-the-centre.
The other great legacy of Mr. Blair is the reshaping the welfare state agenda for the modern world. Labour, traditionally seen as the knights in the shining armour for failing public services, nailed the coffin of welfare state when it publicly and with impact moved towards ‘choice’, a thinly-veiled word for ‘monetarisation’ in the modern parlance.
This, though an essential shift by the new generation of Labour leaders collectively, was shaped and led by Mr. Blair’s own sense of history and destiny, his deep faith in Protestant Ethic, a sense of Darwinian Freedom, and above all, a pragmatic adjustment of labour ideology to the post-Soviet age.
Many leaders, ordinary men at the core, rise to the challenges of their task with a personal view of history. Likes of Hitler are the prime examples, who led and destroyed themselves by pursuing a vision of history over rationality – a Teutonic state pitted against Slavic Russia, but in some sort of coexistence with Protestant Britain – something that was far from the ground realities in 1939, but which sat at the core of his world vision, and caught up with him in his subsequent actions. Churchill, who had an imperial vision of the moral and intellectual leadership of the English-speaking people, and a deep sense of commonality with the Americans, drew strength from this and persisted steadfastly against the Germans. Churchill also saw the world in the historical terms of spheres of influence [should we credit Price Metternich with its origin], and could visualise an iron curtain, some sort of a garage-gate, coming down over some parts of Europe much better than his contemporaries.
Mr. Blair had his own sense of history, and he helped shape the world along its lines. His version of history has been deeply influenced by Churchill, and holds the common sense of purpose with the American people in its core. His sense of moral and intellectual leadership was based on ‘freedom’ – a combination of economic Darwinism, tabloid journalism, and free speech in English – and led him to visualise a free world with Afghan ladies in Bikinis, Swazi king campaigning for Ballots and the Indian farmers singing along Rolling Stones with conviction. He believed that there would be no stopping on the way to this in the post-Soviet post-Internet world. And, he pursued this vision with all his energies, and helped shape up the new battle frontiers.
This is the prime legacy he would leave behind, creation an Anglo-American alliance, committed to dominate and shape the entire world after itself. Mr. Blair saw himself as the High Priest and Intellectual Force behind this vision, much like Churchill. Mr. Blair’s world had to have its antagonists, and the Islamic world, out of favour after the soviet threat was gone, presented an alternate vision - the only other cohort of people with a global vision different from the Anglo-Saxon one – presented themselves to the cause. So, another competition for Global Dominance was set off – which will run over the next decades and will be aimed at hearts and minds and pockets of people, and will probably be concluded when the oil has finally run out, and a post-petroleum world emerges with its new ideologies.
It is unclear when and how Mr. Blair will go. But, no doubt, he presents us with a new world order – new battle frontiers, a new social reality, an inevitable climb [or, slide] to a dog-eat-dog morality and a tabloid intellect in a reality-show world. It is going to affect all of us, and our children. His legacy will be to make us free but to subvert the idea of freedom, just like he attempted to provide public services by destroying what was left of it.