Thursday, 12 May 2011

What would Tony Blair do now?

There is an interesting column in today's Telegraph today from John McTernan, former adviser to Tony Blair when Prime Minister. Read it here.

McTernan makes two simple points of advice to the coalition government but essentially the Conservative majority of the coalition:
1. Don't try and be too radical too soon; instead leave your biggest policy changes and most controversial reforms to the second or third term;
2. Don't obsess about Tony Blair - what he did and didn't do when Prime Minister - instead learn from the way he ignored the legacy of Thatcher to set out his own path.

I have a short response to each of these. To the first, this analysis is fine if you have a massive majority to play with and are content to plod along, slowly making changes in an incremental fashion, which slow down decline rather than turn around the supertanker. This article was aimed squarely at the Conservative coalition partners who, as suggested by being in coalition, did not secure a majority that informed them they would be in power for a generation. Instead, they face large challenges to the economy and public services while also needing to demonstrate significant advances within a five year parliamentary cycle. Timidness will get them nowhere.

Second, I have written before about the obsession with 'Blair's playbook' by some at the very top of the Conservative Party. In opposition I saw its merits as the Party under David Cameron became focused, dealt with the media much better, and developed a genuine understanding of what Blair called 'Mondeo Man'. In Government it is right to learn lessons from the past but a strong and successful government must define itself rather than be defined by what it isn't. So here I agree with McTernan but for a different reason. To me any decisions in policy and reform need to be guided by the events happening now, not reviewing what Tony did or didn't do 12 or 13 years ago.

Once you are in government you are the history makers. The Coalition is right to follow its radical agenda and avoid having to write a book in 10 years time, such as Tony Blair's 'The Journey', which is so filled with regret for what might have been achieved.   

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