Saturday, June 30, 2007


... Tony has left the building.

One of those nice expressions the French have is: "Voilà un homme!" Meaning "Now there's a ballsy fella!" or "Ese hombre tiene cojones!" depending on whether you live north or south of the Bush Border Fence. It's been ten years since Tony Blair first set foot in Downing Street 10 and he certainly left his mark, so much that the quiet way he slipped away last Wednesday came as an anticlimax. In his place has come Gordon Brown, a Scotsman and Blairs Chancellor of the Exchequer - in the UK something like a Super Minister responsible for Finance, Economy, Budget and Treasury - during three Labour governments. If popular myth is to be believed, the two men arranged for the takeover thirteen years ago in the Granita restaurant in Islington, where they reportedly struck a deal in which Brown would stand aside for some time while the more charismatic Blair would win over Middle Englands crucial swing voters. The bold goal was to end 15 years of Tory rule, first under Margaret Thatcher and then under John Mayor. The agreement would have promised Brown unparalleled power over domestic policy as Chancellor, should Labour win the 1997 elections, and, "at some future date", the premiership itself. Whether or not this story is true, that day has now come.

At first sight the Blair years meant ten years of socialist rule over Britain, but in many respects Blair has been a socialist the way Joe Lieberman has been a Democrat. Already prior to Labour chasing the Tories from power, there was an expression in the UK which went that "I am Tony Blair, MP" in reality meant "I am Tory, Plan B". Interesting is also that young Blair, while a pupil in Choristers School, Durham, northern England, served as the Conservative candidate in a mock school election, and that his father Leo, who Tony named a son after, was Chairman of one of Durham's conservative associations. Certainly it is so that Tony Blair led the Labour Party away from its hard-left leanings towards a rather centrist course, earning his politico-economic philosophy the moniker "The Third Way" (although other, not necessarily comparable policies have also been called that way"). Blairs "Third Way" was a radical mix of free market and interventionist theories, rejecting both the pure laissez-faire aproach as old-school socialism with its nationalizations and massive redistribution schemes through heavy taxing. In fact, he had a clause referring to Labour's committment to "the common ownership of the means of production", read nationalization of key industries, scrapped from the party's constitution. Of course, it would be wrong to label him as a closet rightwinger - after all, the man was e.g. instrumental in developing a controversial Minimum Wage policy. And in the ethical field, he once even supported lowering the age of consent for gay sex to 16 (!), something not exactly jibing with his being a devout Christian. Which, btw, is yet another feature which made him stand out in Britains top leftwing spheres.

But taking it all together, ten years of "socialist" Blair rule over the British Isles hardly compares to socialist rule on the Continent. True, public spending has increased sharply, especially in the fields of Health Care and Education - but at the same time Blairs government has introduced market based reforms in these areas. And, all that extra money did buy something: shorter hospital wait times, better care through tens of thousands more of doctors, nurses and teachers, and a tuition scheme that has put Britains universities on a better financial footing. Economic growth has been sound, though not spectacular, on average some 2.5% per year. However, it was steady, and in fact "The Blair Years" marked the longest uninterrupted period of economic growth in 200 years. Of course, some will say this period of recovery started before the Blair/Gordon tandem, when John Major was PM and Kenneth Clarke Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the fact remains that at least the growth continued on a relatively stable level for ten years, which is an accomplishment in itself. One cannot deny that Blair (and Brown) proved themselves good, though probably boring, stewards of the economy.

Low Inflation during the Blair YearsIn line with the importance the "Third Way" adheres to technological development, under Blair spending on scientific research tripled. Add to this - apart from the longest sustained period of economic growth in modern British history - low inflation, actually less spending on unemployment benefits AND all this while not (significantly) enhancing income taxes, and you begin to understand why the UK's Conservative Party has such a hard time re-establishing itself - New Labour fulfilled part of its agenda. Of course, one notices that the inflation graph to the left shows an upwards jerk over the past two years, but this has of course everything to do with the surging prices for energy and raw materials - we feel that just as well over here too.

In light of all this, it is perhaps remarkable that a man who is, apart from his being an able and efficient statesman, by his very nature an amiable person, towards the end seemed to have lost all this credit on account of just one decision. Naturally, we are talking here about his decision to ally himself unconditionally with President Bush and his Middle East initiative, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the enforcing of democracy with arms. Time will tell Bush's decision was the right one, and in time too, historians will merely be able to confirm that. Ergo, many years ahead from now Blair, without the alleged "stain" of the Iraq "adventure", and with basically only positive accomplishments to be remembered, will be judged much more favorably than today. And then we haven't even talked about that fitting end to his career as PM, the Northern Ireland Peace Deal. Personally, from the (limited) POV of a foreigner, I have but one caveat concerning Blair rule, and that's his government decade-long keeping the gates wide open for all kinds of immigrants, but especially those from muslim countries. Plus, of course, its apparent failure to deport any hate-inciting mad mullah on the first Hercules available to the hellhole he came from. A price will have to be paid for that - not all nightclub porters will see the smoke in time. Plus, creeping islamization does in fact not need carbombs at all. Mindless walking tents willing to breed like rabbits for their usurpers can do the trick too, in a matter of decades. By the time everyone realizes what a visionary Enoch Powell was, it may be far, far too late.

In the here and now, however, Tony Blair has been succeeded by Gordon Brown. With regards to economic policy, not much change is to be expected, Brown in fact being the architect of much of the good work of the past ten years. David Cameron's Tories like to depict Brown as a more leftist Blair, but they forget that the two men long ago agreed on a Labour which should distance itself from the socialist dogmas. The reality is that the Blair AND Brown tandem not only gave free market mechanisms a "free" hand in the private sector, but that they ALSO introduced them in the public sector: the NHS, national security and even in jails (!). It is safe to say that under Brown, the days of John Smith and Neil Kinnock won't come back. Where Browns accents will differ from Blairs is in his approach to the EU though. Blair was pro-Europe, an advocate of more European integration beyond the economical aspects. Brown, on the other hand, is a staunch Euroskeptical: e.g., it was his work that Britain did not join the eurozone in 1999. So if there is more European integration in the coming years, it will be without the UK, at least as long as Gordon Brown rules.

Less change, if any at all, is to be expected with regards to the transatlantic relationship. Like Sarkozy in France, Brown is a great admirer of the US. And just like Blair, Brown sees a solid relationship with America as the cornerstone of the UK's foreign policy. It is therefore unlikely that Brown will suddenly downgrade the UK presence in Iraq or Afghanistan anytime soon. In short, Tony Blair may be gone, at least as PM, and many Americans may - will - remember him with fondness. But under his successor, the fabric of the US/UK alliance will remain strong.

And six years into the WOT, that is something to be grateful for.