Blair’s other legacy

It is inevitable given that it became the issue that defined his premiership – the failed invasion of Iraq will be seen as Blair’s great legacy.

He got plenty of other things wrong too, but for all his words about a progressive majority, his inaction on electoral reform paved the way for majority right wing government.

Had he been brave enough to face down the conservative forces in his own party we could have seen the 1999 Jenkins commission proposals implemented.

He wasn’t.

In his excellent autobiography, Ming Campbell recalls his wife Elspeth whispering to Blair at John Smith’s funeral, ‘Don’t Forget The Liberals’. ‘I won’t’ was the response.

We all know what actually happened.

Had Blair had the courage to introduce PR we would have almost certainly seen a Labour/Lib Dem coalition at some point during the last decade.

Coalition is difficult, we know that, so I am not arguing things would have been plain sailing, anymore than working with the the red team would be than it was with the blues.

However the advantages of an arrangement with Labour are clear.

There would have been a better policy fit and a higher level of Lib Dem voter retention given the fact that the majority of our supporters are more centre left than centre right.

The mistake our leadership made was trusting Blair too much. Some might say that we repeated that error in our dealings with Cameron.
Of course it is tempting for any political party having won a Parliamentary majority under FPTP to potentially risk losing through a change to PR.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party are in that position right now. It will be fascinating to watch how his new government implements their election promise to reform the voting system.

Back here in Britain we have to deal with Blair’s other legacy. A right wing Tory government cutting benefits, restricting workers rights and scapegoating the vulnerable.

We can’t change what has already happened but we can learn from it.

I am confident that our party, the Liberal Democrats, is rebuilding fast and could be a strong third force as we approach the next General Election.

If we even get a sniff of power then, a cast iron committment to PR for the House of Commons must be our price for any cooperation with other parties.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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9 Comments

  • Yes, very true , David. It s essential our party make something of three party politics again. Amazing to think many have often yearned for more ambition for us to fight to replace Labour or hope for a majority , now it would be great to be the third force , at least. Agree about electoral reform, missed opportunities , terrain to re claim. Some think it sounds self serving , dull at best . I do not agree. Democracy is a topic more vital than most. We must make the desire for it here share the thrill of the democracy campaigners in countries without it.

  • He has another legacy, a good one, Northern Ireland.

  • Jenny barnes 11th Dec '15 - 3:14pm

    Why blame blair? We could have made PR a pre condition for coalition. There may never be another chance as good.

  • David Warren 11th Dec '15 - 6:05pm

    @jenny barnes

    It is a fact that Blair’s failure to implement the recommendations of the Jenkins commission meant New Labour failed to live up to its promises.

    That failure has paved the way for what could be a long period of Tory government.

  • @ Jenny Barnes

    “We could have made PR a pre condition for coalition.”

    Anyone knows that the last thing on earth the Tories would have agreed to was PR, which was obvious from any account of the Coalition negotiations. We could have pleaded, screamed, shouted, arm-twisted all we liked. In the final analysis, they would have forced another election and likely won it, in a pre-run of the 2015 election.

    PR poses an existential threat to both the Tories and Labour and neither would have agreed to it.

  • Peter Davies 12th Dec '15 - 12:32pm

    It is generally believed that we could have got it for local government instead of the AV referendum. In retrospect that would obviously have been better. Many of us would have preferred it even if we would have won the referendum.

  • David Warren 13th Dec '15 - 9:16am

    @peter davies

    I wasn’t aware of that.

    PR for local government would have been a major gain.

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