How important was Tony Blair?

I was in a taxi yesterday and after a brief chat about cricket and the virtue of the iPhone, the taxi driver – who, it is important to say, was of Pakistani origin – asked me what I thought of “that Blair”. “Did I watch the programme?”, he asked. But, before I could answer he went off on a rant about Mr Blair as a liar, a murderer and that he would be forced to apologise before the one true God, and so on.

So clearly Tony Blair is a controversial character and his memoirs have generated an enormous amount of interest. But just how important was he as an individual? Clearly he thinks that he made a difference, even to the extent of claiming he would have won a fourth term for Labour. But those of us interested in politics and economics like to see ourselves as rational and focused on theories and concepts. If our theories are correct, it ought not to matter who is pressing the levers.

Of course, this is a very old argument and there are doubtless some Marxists who still chant “History is not made by great men” in their sleep. But, it is a serious issue. There have been a couple of blog entries about whether changing the voting system will help or hinder libertarian ideas. But what if it really does depend more on the charisma, character and sheer luck of the particular politicians involved? What if the Falklands War hadn’t happened and Mrs Thatcher had remained unpopular; or Labour had elected Healey instead of Foot – or Brown instead of Blair?

Tony Blair, as my taxi driver forcefully told me, “caused a lot of trouble in the world”. We might presume that some, even much of this “trouble” would not have happened without him. So where does that leave those of us who deal in ideas?

And now I’ve joined the massed chorus commenting on the Blair book I’m actually going to sit down and read it!

I think it is highly unlikely that we would have had a Tory victory in 1997 whoever was leading Labour. So I think the important question is “Did Tony Blair move Labour in a direction that led to better government from 1997-2005 than another Labour leader would have given us?”. I think the answer to that question is probably “yes”.

The way in which Blair is excoriated by everybody is weird. He wasn’t exactly my cup of tea but he did try to move the Labour Party in the direction of a more rational economic policy.

I agree with Philip. And even if we were to believe that in fact a Conservative win in 1997 would have led to better government over the next few years than a Labour win (which I rather doubt), our system does presuppose (even ‘require’) some alternation of winning parties from time to time.Given the mediocre calibre of many ‘leading’ Labour politicians (and the same is probably true of the Conservatives, as a rule), I suspect that the quality of the leader does make a difference. Would Gordon Brown as prime minister from 1997 really have done better than Tony Blair?

Facebook users type “Subversively move Tony Blair’s memoirs to the crime section in book shops” into search and join the group. We are moving the books into the crime section wherever they are sold (or next to the wet wipes at Tesco’s) to make sure everybody knows where it belongs.

To ErrNo, while you and the other grown-ups are moving the book be very careful not to read any of it. Your prejudices are very precious and should not in any way be besmirched.

As much as I hate doing it, I have given up on reading Blair’s book. Its not that I disagree with his politics – though I do – but it is just so appallingly badly written. He clearly didn’t write his own speeches if this book is anything to go by.

Peter – or maybe he did not write his own book if his speeches are anything to go by!

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