Tony Blair: a profoundly reasonable man

Tony Blair just announced he is to stand down as Prime Minister on 27 June, moving out of Downing Street after ten years in power.

Much will be said and written about him, about his character and charisma and his decision to align Britain with the US and invade Iraq. But here I'm more interested in commenting on what I see as his defining characteristic as a policy maker.

Tony Blair the policy maker was, first and foremost, a reasonable man. He is, of course, a lawyer with no economics traning. But when it came to schools and hospitals he understood the importance of expanding choice and putting the right incentives in place. Time and again, he showed he had a deep grasp of both the power and limitations of markets, and he was not afraid to drive the point home in the face of stiff ideological opposition. His domestic agenda was driven by a sound understanding of economics, not by cranky ideas, politics or a desire to please vested interests.

Keynes once said:

Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.

Such a charge could never have been waged against Tony Blair.


  1. Anonymous Says:

    The act of assessing legacies is interesting in itself. If you go back far enough (19th century or earlier for sure, but maybe even the first half of the 20th century), legacies were assessed by historians a long time after the event with pundits of the day relatively unimportant. However, with the growth in media it seems likely that some kind of near-consensus (or at least some consensus regarding what the main two or three "main" viewpoints are) might be made quite quickly on Tony Blair and will dominate the work of future historians.

    This is in many ways a bad thing because I think assessing legacies benefits from a time lag to see how some longer-term policies pan out and to get away from any emotive feelings around the end someone's career. I also think Historians are often more interested in going into real depth whereas the current media obsession with over-simplification means it's far easier to dismiss Blair's legacy as "Iraq" (one word) or "overshadowed by Brown" (three words) and these kind of views might become too entrenched for later detailed work to really get away from them.