Sunday, October 10, 2010

Polly Toynbee and David Walker

The last of the literature festival sessions for me was last night's discussion with Polly Toynbee and David Walker on the verdict on New Labour's thirteen years in office. I have to say, this being a bit of a reactionary town, I was expecting more dissent from the audience, but in general there was a feeling that their record was more positive than negative. Polly's assessment was that, unlike Thatcher, whose true evil didn't manifest itself until her second term, the high point of the Labour government was their first term. That was when their most radical initiatives were introduced. After that, there seems to have been a muddle and confusion about their actions, with some fairly inexplicable things done in their name. Why, as a primary example, did they introduce more faith schools? That is possibly the one thing I find most unforgivable. And cutting the threshold for inheritance tax. And losing sight of the fact that constantly weighing the pig does not, in itself, help to fatten it up.

The truth is, though, that the Labour government of 1997-2010 will be remembered for Iraq. I supported the war at the time, and on balance I still think it was probably the right thing to do. But they lied to us. That overrides everything. Once trust is broken it cannot be mended.


James said...

How and when was their trust established to begin with?

Tom Conoboy said...

I don't think there's any question that in the 97 election the people gave their trust to Labour.

That election was held against the backdrop of the great sleaze crisis. Martin Bell against Neil Hamilton. Prominent Tories implicated in sleaze stories humiliated. The Tories, after eighteen years in power, were unceremoniously bundled out of office in a genuine wave of people power. It is important not to forget how it felt that morning in May 97 when Blair first entered 10 Downing Street. There was a genuine feeling that this was a significant moment.

And it is also important to remember that during the first term, Labour's popularity remained very high. Blair's own ratings were the highest for any Prime Minister. And in the following election, Labour achieved another landslide. It is clear from that that the trust we gave them was felt to have been repaid.

It does seem to me that it was Iraq that did irreparable damage. Before then, we gave Blair more than the benefit of the doubt: we genuinely trusted him.