TONY Blair left office on this day thirteen years ago, an auspicious milestone for some, but for the former leader’s legacy luck may be changing.
Much besmirched in the wake of the Iraq War, Blair’s time in office left a bitter taste in many a Labour activist’s mouth.
When Jeremy Corbyn – a long time left-wing critic of the New Labour project – took over the leadership of the party in 2015 it marked a clear break with the Blair era.
Criticism of those heading years – the most electorally successful in the party’s recent history – focuses largely on Tony Blair’s decision to go in and topple Saddam.
An act that came amid attempts to mislead Parliament – as uncovered by the subsequent Chilcot report – and mass demonstrations with millions on the street.
The repercussions of this move have been devastating, with millions of Iraqis killed during the invasion and subsequent occupation.
Then there is the destabilisation of the region, the overflow of sectarian conflict into neighbouring Syria and the rise of ISIS.
Indeed, few stand by that decision now – with one Labour MP who voted in favour of going to war honestly admitting as much in an interview with Redaction Politics.
It’s worth remembering that domestically, the New Labour programme contained much to cheer about.
After taking power in 1997 the Blair government introduced the winter fuel allowance and cut hospital waiting times to their lowest ever.
Labour in that period also oversaw a reduction in crime by one third and championed child care with the foundation of the Sure Start programme.
These progressive advances were joined too by legislation on maternity leave and the minimum wage.
In health and education, the cancer guarantee and record attainment results were arguably the party’s biggest success stories.
A blind fixation to financialisation centred heavily on the city of London did still bleamish aspects of this domestic bliss.
With New Labour firmly wedded to neoliberalism, the era witnessed a role back in public ownership with the introduction of Private Finance Initiatives which ultimately saddled debt onto the public sector for the benefit of private firms.
Lasting constitutional legacies came in the form of the Devolution Act while human right protections were strengthened via the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act and civil partnerships.
Though here the story is somewhat twisted by a authoritarian turn following the 7/7 terrorist attack and the introduction of sweeping counter-terrorism powers.
There are of course some feats which are indeed more ambiguously deserving of kudos and applause.
High up amongst these proudest achievements was the signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998 that brought the bitter and bloody Northern Ireland conflict to a close.
While lifting half a million children out of poverty is another much-lauded effort and one which is most often pointed to by Blair’s loyal fans today.
Indeed, such highlighting of the former Prime Minister’s greatest hits may now find a more receptive audience in the form of Keir Starmer’s newly minted ‘lefty-free’ shadow cabinet.
Having ditched the left of the party following Corbyn’s disastrous showing in the election, Starmer seems set to plot a new course, putting clear water between himself and Labour’s last five years.
Thursday’s sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey – to many, the only Corbynite legacy left on the Labour frontbenches – entrenched this attitude to some.
After three months, the new leader of the opposition seems in no hurry to change direction making rehabilitation of at least aspects of Blair’s legacy a distinct possibility on the horizon.
Indeed the MP for St Pancras has reportedly spoken a number of times with his predecessor, Blair in turn as been highly complimentary of the new leader of the opposition in the press.
His Chancellor and successor Gordon Brown publicly backed Sir Starmer’s leadership campaign, while Blair himself endorsed Ian Murray, an ardent Corbyn critic.
Keen as he is to rebrand himself – as shown by frequent intrusions into the remain side of the Brexit debate – Blair may yet see a chance to reshape Labour thinking towards New Labour, and ultimately cement his place in the party’s history.
In May, he heaped praise on Starmer’s short reign, telling BBC Newsnight: “The party has changed for the better, in my view, because it’s got a serious leadership that’s already making an impact because they’re showing competence and forensic skill in dissecting the government.
“I think he’s done a very good job so far and I wish him every success.”
Last week it was revealed the two had been in touch, with the former Prime Minister giving the new leader advice on more than one occassion.
Whether this comes to pass is down to what long-term strategy Starmerism finally settles on.
Paying lip service to New Labour to show you are tough on Corbynism is one thing, but believing becoming Blair V2 is the path to power is quite another.
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