Oxford University Labour Club held a policy forum in Balliol College on Tuesday to debate the legacy of Tony Blair.
The motion was initially ‘OULC believes that Tony Blair did not do enough for the Labour cause in Britain’, but this was eventually amended to ‘OULC believes that Tony Blair did not do enough for British society’. The motion ultimately fell by 29 votes to 14, indicating OULC broadly support New Labour’s domestic policy.
Some contributors to the discussion saw Labour’s investment in public services such as health and education under Tony Blair as an improvement to British society and something to be proud of.
The introduction of the National Minimum Wage and the Working Families’ Tax Credit were cited as evidence of clear progressive steps which came about under Blair. Other attendees mentioned developments in fields such as gay rights and gender equality.
However, others disputed the idea that Blair was a genuinely left-wing politician.
It was noted that his Labour party abandoned Clause IV, which committed the party to nationalisation of industry. Comparisons were made between Blair and Thatcher, and Blair was criticised for having too much faith in market forces at the expense of the state apparatus favoured by previous Labour leaders.
It was also acknowledged that Blair was electorally Labour’s most successful ever leader, but the balance between principles and pragmatism generated controversy.
The second motion was ‘OULC believes in Tony Blair’s international strategy’.
It was broadly, though not universally, agreed that the invasion of Iraq was a miscalculation that has led to regional turmoil and over one hundred thousand deaths for little tangible gain.
Though some argued that the removal of Saddam Hussein was the right move given the information available at the time, praise for Blair’s international strategy broadly came for other operations.
Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland were all examples cited in defence of Blair’s foreign policy.
This motion fell by 19 votes to 15, indicating that a majority of OULC supports Tony Blair’s domestic legacy but not his international one.
Tom Rutland, OULC’s Social Secretary, told Cherwell ‘I think the evening’s discussion surrounding Tony Blair and his legacy was a useful one to have.
It is important to remember that when we agree on many things, such as the minimum wage being a good policy, the situation in Northern Ireland being vastly improved and the huge advancements in civil rights for various groups, we are inevitably going to focus on the areas we disagree when discussing Blair’s government.
When remembering Blair’s performance we should consider everything achieved in the 10 years he was in power for, not just the Iraq War.’
Hannah Wilkinson, Membership Officer and Treasurer-Elect, was more critical of the Blair legacy. ‘I think that Tony Blair was worse for the Labour movement than Margaret Thatcher was. He continued to support the individual rather than the collective voice. I’m encouraged by the fact the motion (about whether he did enough) passed fairly narrowly, although I voted against it. I think the club and the party need to admit he made a lot of mistakes and move on.’
Former Co-Chair Lincoln Hill also took the view that OULC should be focusing on the future rather than the past.
He told Cherwell ‘I think despite the controversy that any debate over Blair personally generates, we actually agree a lot more on what went right and what went wrong during his premiership than is sometimes apparent.
The key now is for everybody to learn and apply those lessons and put in the doorstep work that will get us back into power in 2015.’