Someone in prospect magazine wonders why the left hates blair more than some of his conservative predecessors. My thoughts are roughly:
Blair’s achievements are enormous: the huge improvement in the NHS and the funding and performance of schools to name just two. His constitutional changes (though conceived before he became PM) were also very significant. So too with peace in NI.
I think the virulent opposition to Blair from the left – more instense than against conservative leaders – owes something to a sense of betrayal. From the day of his controversial court backed electoral victory, Bush was loathed on the left. For Blair to align himself so closely with Bush, after 9/11 but even before the Iraq war, was always going to alienate Blair from large sections of left opinion. Blair allowed no distance between himself and Bush, not even a shade that might have made independence of mind and policy seem credible.
On Iraq, where Blair constructed a casus belli from intelligence that was plainly insufficient, if not patently exaggerated, he was always going to destroy his image on the left. In arguments about justifying Iraq, Blair keeps on saying that after 9/11 he knew islamic fundamentalism had to be confronted, yet everyone knows now, as they did then, that Al Queda and the 9/11 bombers were not spawned in Iraq but elsewhere. So despite Blair’s insistence that Saddam’s regime posed a threat, we know that it didn’t really, not after 1991 and all the years of sanctions. Saddam was a murderous dictator, but the time to intervene to save his victims was long past (incidentally the West backed him while he was at his most brutal).
On top of Iraq, there is Blair’s rightward lurch in matters concerning law and order, and issues like Freedom of Information (which he now says makes government impossible).
Blair was an immense politician, and I believe did have a genuine progressive intent, at least in the beginning. But more clearly than any prime minister in recent times, he let power go to his head. He became a megalomaniac, even evangelical in his zeal. He seemed not to have a healthy sceptism towards power itself. The way he deployed his power, and how he altered the office of prime minister, are troubling.
For Blair there was no such thing as a cabinet. He was right and his person decision was a diktat. It is probably on balance a good thing that there was another powerful figure next door whose presence was the ultimate limit on how far Blair wanted to stretch his office.
Blair’s term exposed how little real counterweight exists in the British system for a PM with a large majority and who is in command of the senior figures in his own party. In the end, he is hated on the left as much for how he deployed power as he is for any single policy (aside from Iraq).