Goodbye Tony Blair

After a decade in power, Tony Blair stepped down as Britain’s Prime Minister today, and was replaced by Gordon Brown, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Although it’s been fashionable for some time to dislike Tony Blair, I have mixed feelings about his legacy. On the one hand, he’s fulfilled a lot of the promises he made to rejuvenate Britain’s public services, and has pumped billions of pounds into education, transport and the National Health Service. He’s also overseen a long (perhaps the longest?) period of sustained economic growth — although of course many would attribute the economic successes of the last ten years to Gordon Brown anyway.

On the other hand, Britain is now a breathtakingly expensive country to visit, and since I left in 1999 has increasingly become a surveillance society. Big Brother has arrived (and I don’t mean the insanely-popular Endemol reality-TV show) — there are CCTV cameras EVERYWHERE in the UK now. Brixton, the neighbourhood where most of my London-based friends live and where I spend most of my time in the capital, has the highest concentration of CCTV cameras in the World.

(Sidebar rant: This ubiquitous surveillance has the effect of making almost everyone a fine-paying criminal; I rented a car on a recent trip, and three months’ later was dismayed to receive a letter from the rental car company saying that I had incurred a fixed penalty notice from Lambeth Borough Council for parking in a bus stop (for just 30 seconds, when no buses were around). There was even a grainy black and white picture of my rental car on the fixed penalty notice, snapped from a CCTV camera mounted high on a pole across the street! The rental car company paid the 75 quid ticket and charged the cost to my credit card — plus they added an additional 25 pound “administration fee” for their trouble).

Of course, the most problematic aspect of Tony Blair’s decade of leadership was his decision to follow George Bush on his disastrous capers in Afghanistan and Iraq. To this day, almost no-one can offer any explanation why Tony Blair followed Bush. It was extremely damaging to him, to the Labour Party, and to the UK as a whole. All I can think of is that, since Britain is one of the top four arms dealers in the World, the UK generally profits when there is armed conflict. But that doesn’t really account for the almost fanatical zeal with which Blair pushed the Bush agenda.

Perhaps all will be explained in the inevitable Blair biographies, memoirs etc.

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