Blair speaks out. Will anyone listen?
Tony Blair waded into the debate yesterday on the health of British society as politicians, both past and present, seek to find a cure for the sickness our Prime Minister has diagnosed us with. As someone who has generally refrained from commenting too much on British politics since he left office it is not immediately clear whether Blair is genuinely interested in examining the causes of the riots or is simply seeking to protect the New Labour legacy. Today’s youth are getting completely screwed over by the coalition but primarily they grew up under Blair’s government. The lack of morality and responsibility evident in the looters and rioters hardly reflects well upon the man who put education at the heart of his reforms.
With this in mind it was hardly surprising to hear Blair reject David Cameron’s notion of a sick society, insisting that to view Britain as suffering from some sort of terminal moral decline would be to do ourselves a disservice. He argues that the vast majority of people in our poorest and most deprived communities are honest, law-abiding citizens, that our MPs work harder and longer than they did when he first became an MP back in 1983 and that in the boardroom we have a greater sense of corporate social responsibility than was previously evident. In other words, both at the top and the bottom of our society, Blair doesn’t believe we are suffering from a moral decline.
He also warns that if we decide as a country that there are profound problems throughout our society then we will do ourselves great harm on the international stage. If we keep presenting ourselves to the international community as a country suffering from a lack of morality then we shouldn’t be surprised if that is how we are perceived abroad regardless of whether or not that is actually the case.
Essentially, what Blair wants is for our country’s leading politicians to recognise the nature of the problems confronting our society without depressing the situation further with relentlessly negative rhetoric about where we are. Thus Blair choses now to recognise that whilst the speech he gave following the death of James Bulger, in which he spoke of a malaise in British society, did wonders in elevating him to political stardom, it did little to solve the fundamental problems that needed addressing.
How sincere Blair is when he calls for such political refrain is hard to know but regardless he has a point. If we chose to see the actions of the rioters as representative of all of today’s youth then it’s a pretty bleak future we’re staring into. Likewise if we chose to see every police officer as corrupt, every politician as dishonest and every boardroom executive as amoral then there’s not much hope for this country going forward.
So is anyone likely to head the advice of the former Prime Minister? Certainly it appears that Cameron has little interest in following up on Blair’s advice. This is the man that has been telling us for years that our society is broken without ever bothering to offer up any plausible solutions as to how he might go about fixing it. Right now Cameron appears content to simply to sit back and applaud the courts for handing out draconian punishments to first-time offenders whilst mulling over the possibility of removing all benefits for those convicted of crimes.
Ed Miliband’s response to the riots has been much more calm and measured but it still hasn’t been without its faults. The labour leader has spoken a lot in recent times about responsibility running right through from those in the boardroom to those on benefits and has sought to extend this theme in response to the riots but if Ed truly wants the Labour par’ty to be the optimists’ as he claimed in his conference speech last year then he must go further to show that our society isn’t really as sick as Cameron might have us believe. From the heart-warming scenes of the helpers cleaning up Clapham Junction with their brooms to the passion of this woman defending the community she lives in, Britain’s not worth giving up on just yet.