With Blair finally announcing his leaving date it´s natural to cast an eye back over his reign and judge him as a Prime Minister. The hatred which has built up for Blair over the last few years, particularly because of his foreign policy, seemed to melt away as soon as he made the announcement that he was leaving. TV pundits and politicians were quick to pay tribute but I´m not convinced that most people feel the same way as evidenced by the protesters at his farewell speech.
The speech which Blair made at his own constituency of Sedgefield was slightly apologetic, he pleaded with us even if we didn´t agree with him to at least believe that he believed he was doing the right thing. Yep I believe that, but then I´m sure Hitler believed he was doing the right thing. The speech was also very sentimental, I laughed out loud at the whole Britain is special; "This is the greatest nation on Earth".
So how does Blair compare with his predecessors? Was he like Thatcher? In some ways I think he was. The complete devotion to our "special relationship" with the US to the extent that we enter into two wars is certainly something Thatcher would have supported. Distancing ourselves from Europe and throwing our weight around projecting an image much larger than our tiny country really merits on the political world stage is again reminiscent of Thatcher. The centralisation of power, the determination that he knew best in the face of public dissent and his stubborn refusal to admit any error all fit. Then there´s the continued policy of privatisation, increased controls on immigration, the public/private finance initiatives the dodgy cash for questions sleaze. The "We do not negotiate with terrorists" attitude was also a big part of Thatcher´s rule while she applied it to the IRA Tony has applied it to Al Qaeda. His determined defence of our need for nuclear weapons and power is also something Thatcher believed in.
Blair always expressed admiration for the Iron Lady, an attitude which is, or at least was, anathema to most Labour supporters. In 2002 the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said "Tony Blair is doing well because he has essentially followed Thatcher´s path". There is no doubt Blair has little faith in the traditional values of the Labour Party, his third way is really just a justification for having centralist or right wing policies.
Of course not all of Blair´s actions would have met with Thatcher´s approval. His election pledge to allow a referendum on devolution led to the Scottish parliament and with the SNP just narrowly winning the recent election it seems Scotland may be on the path to independence. When Thatcher held a referendum over Scottish devolution back in 1979 she applied a special condition which stated that 40% of the whole population had to vote yes so despite over 60% turnout and over 50% support for devolution she stopped it from happening.
Then there´s public service spending which has undeniably been higher under Blair. The question is what are the results? Where exactly is the money spent? There may have been improvements made but a lot of the money is swallowed by inefficient re-organisations of departments and bureaucratic incompetence. Still Thatcher would not have spent the money at all.
It´s tough to find many areas where Tony has deviated from Thatcher´s path, I guess you could mention the fox hunting ban, surely Thatcher would have stopped that? Then again since it remains completely unused it may as well never have been passed. The only time people have been prosecuted for illegally fox hunting is when private organisations have taken them to court (there have been very few).
Throughout her reign Thatcher was detested in Scotland, we stubbornly voted Labour at every election but we were consistently outnumbered by voters in the south. The feeling of joy when she finally got ousted was close to the elation when Blair finally led a Labour government to victory, we had such high hopes. Those hopes are long dead and the last few years there has been a growing expectation that Blair simply has to go. I thought there was a real possibility of him being ousted in the same humiliating way as Thatcher was as he seemed like he was going to cling to power indefinitely but somehow he has managed to decide upon and orchestrate his own departure.
If you look at what Tony has done it is tough to see him in a good light. Thatcher did wage a despicable and unjustifiable war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands but that is eclipsed by Blair lying to the British public to wage war in Iraq. Incidentally Blair backed Thatcher´s decision to go to war in the Falklands just recently stating "When I look back, yes, I have got no doubt it was the right thing to do". That seems to be his line on past wars. When you look at the situation both Afghanistan and Iraq are in now it is tough to argue there has been any improvement for the people who live there.
Funnily enough Thatcher has spoken out against some of Blair´s more objectionable actions; she did say it was a mistake to go to war in Iraq though I suspect she would have done the same thing in the circumstances. The best thing she has come out with in recent years was a reaction to Blair´s identity card scheme, she said that ID cards were a "Germanic concept and completely alien to this country".
Yet somehow I still hate Thatcher more, I grew up with her in power and as a child found her deeply scary, she reminded me of Davros from Dr Who. She had an inhuman quality about her while Blair has played the friendly vicar. Thatcher the milk snatcher was her rhyming moniker and for us she was a pantomime villain while Blair has just been a big disappointment.