Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Blair years

This morning Tony Blair made the long anticipated announcement that he will step down as prime minister on June 27. He was the longest serving Labour PM, having been in power for just over ten uninterrupted years. Reporters, historians, and bloggers will all try to evaluate the Blair years over the next few days (and then do it again next month). It's a hopeless task. Ten years is a long time and people's memories are short. It takes time and distance to develop any sort of historical perspective. It's no coincidence that he waited till this week to announce his final day. The Irish settlement allows him to go out on an accomplishment and perhaps leverage a little good will out of those who will be evaluating him.

A lot has happened during his ten years. Just off the top of my head:
  • Three sequential election victories
  • Devolution in Scotland and Wales
  • Beckham being Beckham
  • An economic boom, recession, and recovery
  • Continued problems with the health care system
  • Various European Union developments
  • Reorganization of the House of Lords
  • The rise of reality TV
  • Kosovo intervention
  • The death of Princess Diana
  • The cash-for-honors scandal
  • The emergence of global warming as a major political issue
  • Kylie Minogue's breast cancer
  • Millennium festivities
  • Hoof-and-mouth disease crisis
  • The Pinochet arrest
  • Ken Livingstone as London Mayor
  • London chosen to host 2012 Olympics
  • A new settlement in Northern Ireland

I'm sure I missed a few things.

Of course none of this matters. For the next generation, the Blair years will mean one thing: Iraq with its "sexed up" dossiers, David Kelly's suicide, being mocked as Bush's poodle, alarms, arrests, and tightened security. After thirty years, Nixon's presidency is still defined by that "third-rate burglary." Blair faces the same problem.

Blair's still fairly young; he might live to see some broader perspective emerge on his term in power. But I wouldn't count on it.

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