The manner and style of yesterday’s resignation speech showed just how much of a presidential style of politics Tony Blair has brought us. We elected a Prime Minister, and created a President, and I’m sure that was never quite our intention, even if it was maybe his.
The press reviews are rightly mixed this week, as we witness both British and US soldiers perishing, for the most part pointlessly, each and every day.
And beyond Baghdad and back at home, it’s clear to anyone that this government is tired, and has been lame for far too long as it awaits the departure of the king.
But beneath that time-tarnished shell, I still believe that there is so much of basic decency visible in the man, and a whole lot more pragmatism, the quality which more than any other enabled him to re-invent the Labour Party throughout the 1990s, and which allowed him to be elected in 1997 and to govern (for the most part successfully) ever since.
At times (and 1997 was undoubtedly one of those) Blair managed to capture and interpret the mood of the country. But his great mistake at home was a puzzling failure to realise that the two landslide victories he won really were a mandate for change. His refusal at key moments to grasp the nettle and be radical enough.
As one example, Blair’s reluctance to push forward with the European cause was arguably the greatest of missed opportunities. By the time of his re-election in 2001, he might finally have felt brave enough to take on that challenge, but the moment had passed and he could do little more than spinelessly postpone progress for yet another Parliament. Or two.
Another illustration comes from the House of Lords, so ripe already for overhaul and replacement in 1997. Yet it took almost ten years and massively concerted efforts from well beyond the front benches for that process to advance further than the half-baked compromise which the government had meaninglessly preferred.
And even a ban on fox-hunting – that was another cause where change took years for individuals to achieve, when it was surely begging for action from the very first days whilst the Gallaghers were still schmoozing around No. 10.
Iraq appears more than often enough in these pages, but university top-up fees are something else I won’t forget.
That wonderful gift of free university education which I, and Tony Blair, and so many others received – such a marvellous statement of belief in the young people of this country, from all income backgrounds.
And that great gift is no more.
Those two errors were massively different in scale, of course, but each in their own way served to undermine the capabilities, economic potential, cherished values and international future of this country.
By 2005, I certainly wasn’t alone amongst centre-left voters in wishing that the UK electoral system could have given just the faintest chance of voting a Liberal Democrat government into power, with a policies which were more internationally aware and some way to the left of Labour.
If it is inevitable that Blair’s legacy (at least for now) is Iraq, then what are his achievements ? A stable economy, thanks to Gordon Brown and the independence of the Bank of England, Northern Ireland, and the (relatively) healthy survival, against enormous pressures, of the National Health Service and state school education.
Those contributions are surely not to be ignored, and will bring enduring benefits for years and generations to come.
Looking forwards now, the scent of the wind beyond our shores (particularly in the US) now suggests that the economy may not have such an easy ride under Gordon Brown, a man much more interested in principle and action than in electoral mastery or spin.
And so strangely, now at last that we will likely have a leader who is more willing to take the radical decisions and to push for real change where change is needed, now the voters may be more fickle and decide that they just might look at other options instead.
Tony Blair is going to be a tough act to follow, and in more ways than one.
84. Election Special
87. One morning in May
15. Sorrowful hills – the Space Shuttle Disaster and war clouds in Iraq
17. It’s puzzling – a letter on Iraq, to Tony Blair
71. How the West Was Won – Iraq implodes
46. On the front line – Crawley’s echoes of Madrid