This isn’t a blog that spends much time commenting on current affairs / politics etc – not because I am uninterested or don’t have opinions, but because I think others voice those opinions with greater clarity than me. However, in view of Tony Blair’s impending resignation announcement, I can’t help reflecting on the last 10 years…
…I guess that anyone under the age of, say 25, is unable to fully understand the feelings of joy, elation, relief, hope, purpose, excitement etc. etc. that so many shared on May 1st 1997, when (New) Labour came to power. It wasn’t just the pleasure of seeing Portillo and Hamilton and their ilk getting booted unceremoniously out of office, although I did jump up and down at Portillo (champagne at 3.00 a.m. is never a good idea, even in the midst of a Labour landslide). It was also the sense that we did, despite 18 years of Thatcherism, still live in a fundamentally decent society, where care for the weakest and most vulnerable was central, and where basic values of respect and hope and tolerance might thrive. No doubt it was rose-tinted, but on the morning after the election people were genuinely walking around smiling and looking happy. One letter in the Guardian that morning simply read ‘Britain feels better’ (the next letter read, ‘I had to wait 20 minutes for my bus this morning then three came at once, bloody Labour government’). The first 100 days seemed extraordinary: independence of the Bank of England, the large number of women MPs, a commitment to ‘ethical’ foreign policy, Frank Field as Minister for Welfare Reform, the promise of a renewed commitment to make peace in Northern Ireland (this, surely will be the major positive aspect of Blair’s legacy) etc. etc.
And now, ten years on….For me, the problem is not simply Iraq, but the overwhelming feeling that a government that began life as a slick, media-savvy, technically adept outfit, but that understood that such things were at the service of central values and a clear vision, has now become an administration in which everything is directed towards the preservation of its own power. What this generates above all is disillusionment, a sense that, whatever the last ten years have been about, however much we ‘felt’ better in 1997, things have really not got better, but worse.
Can the election of a new leader turn this around? Is all of this just inevitable? Will I find myself voting Lib Dem in a General Election, as I did in the local elections last week? I’m not sure. But I remember what I and others felt 10 years ago and I want to think that we might feel that way again about what politics might achieve – then again, maybe the real explanation of all this is that I am ten years older!