Chris Scott-Barrett and Keith Flett consider the pros and cons of the New Labour years
Frankly, I do not understand the hostility towards Tony Blair, particularly within left-leaning parts of the Labour party. Like many other people, I was enthused by the election landslide in 1997 (Editorial, 1 May). I stood at the end of Downing Street on the morning of 2 May amid the growing chants of “Tony, Tony” as he arrived. Becoming embroiled in the Iraq war, without clear evidence of WMD, was a mistake, but who knows what would have happened if Saddam Hussein had continued in power. Overall, Blair presented the positive face of Britain to the expanding EU and the rest of the world. Britain developed successfully under his premiership and the Good Friday agreement was one of the highlights. When we are now faced with the robotic sloganising of Theresa May, who cannot set out her preferred Brexit deal or indeed any distinct policies, we need a clear and visionary voice. Tony Blalr was good at that stuff. Theresa May is way behind.
• Twenty years on it is too soon to form a historical sense of the Labour’s 1997 election victory, not least because many of those active then, including Tony Blair, remain players now. As you note, despite a massive majority, both in 1997 and again in 2001, New Labour changed, but did not transform, British society as it might have done. The charge is lack of ambition. Perhaps failing to grasp just how hard it can be to meaningfully reform a market capitalist economy, Blair took his eye off the ball and went instead for the “easier” option of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They certainly had an immediate impact, albeit not a good one. Two decades later, where the Tories were once a marginalised political force, we have a hard-right Tory government. Mr Blair is not to blame for that, but had he had a less timid vision of changing the world we might not have arrived here in the first place.