Matthew Parris – “I do love Blair’s Britain”

Comment at end

Or –

29th December 2011

Matthew Parris: “This is now Blair’s Britain: a trite phrase, I know, but the world did change. […) This Mr Blair has done with a deftness, with a sensitivity to national mood that has been unequalled by any British politician I can remember. And the result has been good.”

Before you dwell deeper on the joys of Blair’s Britain through the 2006 eyes of Matthew Parris – the erstwhile (self-confessed) “failed” Tory MP but nonetheless talented writer – let me give you this by way of background and introduction.

For some time I had searched fruitlessly online for the article below by Mr Parris. It had stuck in my mind as I had recently become a Blairite when it was published, and I recalled it had been a good read.  Or rather I had at that time recently realised that I had been a Blairite for some time.  Yet all that I was currently reading from Matthew Parris indicated that he would never, could never have written such a thing. Or such a LOT of GOOD things about Blair and “Blair’s Britain”.

I tweeted on my search for it, and a kind friend came up with it for me:

You may be taken to the £ page rather than directly to the article.  But, never to be beaten by mere formalities, it has been copied and pasted below, in all its glory.

Don’t thank me, Mr Parris – thank YOU.


From The Times
December 23, 2006

I’m no fan of the man, but I do love Blair’s Britain

Matthew Parris

Page 1

A year ago a friend laid down a challenge. “Why don’t you try something new?

“Lie down in a darkened room, and try to think positively about the Prime Minister. Take a fair-minded look at what his near-decade in Downing Street has done for Britain that is right and good. Write a column which sets this out without sarcasm or facetiousness, and does not damn with faint praise. Before the year is out, see if you can.”

I’ve thought hard about that challenge. The truth is that there is just one good thing I can say about this Prime Minister, but that it is a very big thing indeed.

Britain is a nicer place than when he entered Downing Street nearly ten years ago.

His premiership has helped to make it so. Tony Blair has placed his personal stamp on a genuinely new era for Britain -an altered culture, a permanent change in our national mood.

Without any shadow of doubt, Mr Blair will leave a happier country than he found.

Something tolerant, something amiable, something humorous, some lightness of spirit in his own nature, has marked his premiership and left its mark on British life.

Around the turn of the century the buzz-phrase “cool Britannia” was much mocked, and Downing Street probably deserved the mockery; but there was truth in the phrase, there was a real idea there, and the man himself embodied it. This Prime Minister was cool in a way that no predecessor in that office ever had been.

Though evanescent, the quality was not without meaning or impact.

And it was him, him personally. Not Gordon Brown -leaden, sullen, brooding. Not Peter Mandelson -tense, brittle, troubled and strangely trapped by the 20th century. Certainly not John Prescott. “New” Labour may have had some fitful association with central policy changes, but timidity has characterised the flagship policies. The association of new Labour, however, with what we might call the spirit of the age has been very strong. Head and shoulders above the rest of his administration, Tony Blair, the man himself, in himself, has embodied the modernity.

Concrete examples -the way this has been translated in politics -are as slight and individually as seemingly trivial as they are legion. You would expect me to mention civil partnerships, the scrapping of the “section 28” prohibition on the promotion of homosexuality in schools, the equalising of the age of consent, and the ending of the ban on gays in the Armed Forces; but this programme of repeals, though bringing big changes for the minority of which I am part, is more significant for the small changes it has reinforced in the attitudes of the majority.

The minimum wage (towards which I was at first sceptical) is another big change for a minority that signals a small civilising of majority attitudes. Many of us now feel quietly pleased to live in a country that cares -and takes legislative measures to show it -about the poorest paid. Childcare provision, the “social inclusion agenda”, relaxations on licensing hours, the reclassification of cannabis, a relentless campaign of oratory and example on religious tolerance, and a brave opening of the doors to Eastern European labour from the new EU members, are all further examples of a phenomenon for which the term “raft” of measures has become a dreadful cliche, but which has meaning here. I like this raft. I like its drift. I like its rainbow flag.

Page 2

And there has been, as gradual as it is signal and (I hope) permanent, a steady reduction in the level of general censoriousness in public life. In its way this is every bit as health-giving as a reduction in the volume of noxious gases in the atmosphere, and it is clear to me that Mr Blair himself has helped to lead it.

Whether or not he “does” God (as Alastair Campbell put it), this Prime Minister does not do preaching, moralising or finger-wagging. The news media, even the red-top tabloids, have followed suit. Look at the sympathetic way the victims of the Suffolk murders have been treated by the press and broadcasters in recent weeks.

Those who know John Major know very well that the “nation at ease with itself” of which the former Prime Minister often spoke was a truer expression of what Mr Major hoped to achieve than the “Back to Basics” campaign that became his label.

In ways that have been little noticed, Majorism -the Citizen’s Charter, the National Lottery and its good causes, the emphasis on the public as customers rather than lucky beneficiaries of public services -can be seen a Tory attempt to reaccommodate itself to a changed, kinder, gentler Britain, as well as a reflection of John Major’s own nature. But he never quite found his voice, his parliamentary majority, or his stride. You could even say that Majorism was proto-Blairism, which went off half-cock. Mr Blair followed, and got it right.

A defining moment for me was the union of Elton John and David Furnish. A Blair Government had both anticipated and helped to reinforce the astonishing public sympathy for the ceremony. Again, Mr Blair got that right.

The next prime minister -discounting, as perhaps we may, an imminent unhappy interlude with Mr Brown -will be David Cameron. Mr Cameron’s bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party a year ago came close to skidding off the road before it started. The reason for that near-disaster was a story about drugs and youthful indiscretion. Had Mr Cameron taken drugs as a younger man, or had he not?

Mr Cameron’s response was neither yea nor nay, but that it didn’t really matter and it was none of our business. Fleet Street was on a knife edge, undecided which way to tip.

Mr Cameron stuck to his guns. Our news media sniffed the wind, assessed the public mood, and tipped Mr Cameron’s way. The story died. When Sunday newspapers published photographs of George Osborne, the Tory Shadow Chancellor, flanked in late-night circumstances by a black lady, and on the table a trace of what we must suppose to have been salt, the story never really got going.

Why? You remember it too. Why do you think? I cannot quite put my finger on it but recall, borne on the early 21st-century wind, a weary sense of “Oh do let’s grow up. This is all so 20th-century. Can’t we just move on?” We did. In Thatcher’s Britain, Mr Cameron would have crashed; in Blair’s Britain he stayed on the road.

As Blairism owes its economic life in part to Thatcherism, Cameronism will owe its cultural validity -and Mr Cameron his job -in part to Mr Blair.

This is now Blair’s Britain: a trite phrase, I know, but the world did change. Mr Blair is associated with that change, but more than associated with it: as our Prime Minister he has been a presiding mind, a presiding imagination. By no means has he created the new mood but he has caught the mood and run with it, and in running with it, validated it.

Call it weakness or call it a strength, but people without any dominating idea of their own but with the emotional intelligence to sense the spirit of the age and let it inhabit them like a ghost, to interpret it, to give it words and gestures, even to clothe it with theory and statute -these people are changemakers every bit as revolutionary as a Thatcher, but in a different way. You can grab an era by the lapels, as she did, or you can let an era grab you by the lapels and guide it, as he has; both are creative forces in politics.

In democratic politics it is no small thing to catch a changed wind early, to let it fill your sails, and to help steer the spirit of a nation into different waters. This Mr Blair has done with a deftness, with a sensitivity to national mood that has been unequalled by any British politician I can remember. And the result has been good. That at least is a legacy of which he should be proud.


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Recent comments:

I am staggered by all the hate directed towards our former Prime Minister. I believe that Tony Blair made the Iraq decision in good faith and is most certainly NOT a war criminal. If anyone should be tried at the Hague it should be those in the media for totally misrepresenting the information and facts. The media are to blame for fuelling this hatred as it is purely driven by them. (UK)

The greatest and most successful leader the Labour Party has ever had with the courage to fight the Islamist terrorists who really would like to kill us all, and you never hear a good word about him. The herd of independent minds, commentators, activists etc who have never had to make a difficult decision in their lives drown out all debate with their inane chants of war crimes and blood on his hands. Defend him at every chance. I just wish more people would do it. (Glasgow, UK)
Blair was the greatest Labour Prime Minister. It is a disgrace that the party has turned away from his legacy. Shame on Ed Miliband and his so-called ‘new generation’.