Opinion: The Rise and Fall of Tony Blair | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.06.2007
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Opinion: The Rise and Fall of Tony Blair

Only time will tell if Prime Minister Tony Blair will go down in history for leading Britain into a war it didn't want or for the successes and fresh ideas he brought Britons, according to DW's Irene Quaile-Kersken.


Was he really in office for 10 years? His departure marks the end of an era. Tony Blair had nearly let us forget that Great Britain was a conservative stronghold for nearly two decades. The Iron Lady and the pale John Major were hardly history when the young, dynamic New Labour leader conquered the middle by forging a "third way" between the traditional conservative and left ideals in 1997.

He gave Labour, the workers' and unions' party, a new image and made it a viable choice for middle-class voters by pulling the party away from the left. The youngest prime minister since 1812, the kids in 10 Downing Street had pop stars as political allies. The era of "Cool Britannia" had begun.

Ten years under Tony Blair modernized Great Britain. The economy has boomed over the long-term. Unemployment has sunk. The Northern Ireland conflict, which had gone on for decades, was settled. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have their own parliamentary bodies. Billions have been invested in Margaret Thatcher's run-down health system and Britain's debts.

But not everything is rosy in the land of New Labour. There are still long waiting lists in the health care system. Not every privatization can be seen as a success. And despite -- or because of Blair's economic reforms -- the gap between Great Britain's rich and poor has not shrunk.

But those are not the reasons why Blair and his party were punished at recent parliamentary elections in Scotland and Wales as well as on the municipal level. Blair's government based itself on an efficient PR machine that mastered the art of the spin, and distrust among the population grew larger and larger until it culminated with the debacle of the never-found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Despite massive public opposition, Blair led the country into a war whose central premises emerged as false. In exchange for his support of the increasingly isolated US President George W. Bush, Blair reaped ridicule and the nicknames "poodle" and "lap dog." Tony Blair never recovered from that.

Then there are the accusations of nepotism -- Blair's one-time consultant and spin doctor Peter Mandelson became a commissioner in Brussels -- and the allegations his party accepted donations in exchange for honors, which may have led to seats in the upper house of parliament. The clean-cut image of Britain's once favorite son has long been tarnished.

The skirmish surrounding the recent EU summit, Blair's last international appearance as prime minister, also showed that Blair could not keep his promise to increase Great Britain's integration in Europe. While he himself enjoys, and has had success, being a staunch European on the EU stage, the tendency toward euro-skepticism in the British media and general public has grown in recent years. Only 40 percent of Britons still support membership in the EU, according to a recent poll. In his final days, Blair was a placeholder while his successor gained in significance as the one pulling the strings -- sometimes behind the scenes and sometimes very publicly.

Now Blair is leaving the political stage -- at least in his role as Britain's prime minister -- after a farewell that has taken too long. It is high time for him to go. And the British electorate seems to be thanking him for his departure. For the first time in months, the Labour Party is ahead in the polls and Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, once written off as uncharismatic, is coming in well ahead of his conservative rival, the young, dynamic David Cameron, who resembles the young Blair.

The Blair era is over. "Cool Britannia" is ready for a change. First with a new Labour leader. Whether Blair's party will be able to stay in power after the next elections remains to be seen.

Blair's spot in history, however, is secure. But only time will tell if the damage the Iraq war did to his image will be qualified by his undeniable successes.

Irene Quaile-Kersken is the deputy head of DW's English radio service (sms)

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