Conclusion: The net Blair effect, 1994–2007  pp. 645-650

Conclusion: The net Blair effect, 1994–2007

By Anthony Seldon

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This short concluding chapter will attempt to answer just two questions: what did Blair achieve and why did his achievement come so late in his premiership? Tony Blair's first three years as party leader while in opposition (1994–97) had been principally directed to sweeping the party clear of unpopular and outdated ‘Old’ Labour policies, on the economy, tax, trade unions, defence and Northern Ireland, and then embedding the ‘New’ Labour style and policies. The hard thinking on policy was put in not by him, but by Gordon Brown. For this was to be a very different kind of premiership to anything previously known in British history: to a significant extent it would be shared, with Brown being primarily responsible for economic and welfare policy and Blair responsible for the rest. The ‘rest’ did not initially amount to much. But Blair did benefit from four legacies from John Major: a strong economy to provide surpluses to fund increases in spending, embryonic work taking Thatcher's reforms into the public services, Northern Ireland moving in the direction of peace, and the Maastricht opt-out, which made his European policy viable.

In his first term, (1997–2001), Blair's principal achievement, shared with Brown and Peter Mandelson, came at its very outset: the electoral victory with a majority of 179. The remarkable fact for Blair personally was quite how bare the first term was of personal domestic success, beyond providing the stable platform for others to achieve.