Magazine article The Spectator

Not Good Enough

Magazine article The Spectator

Not Good Enough

Article excerpt

The Verdict: Did Labour Change Britain?

by Polly Toynbee and David Walker

Granta, £18.99, pp. 314,

ISBN 9781847081483

Tony Blair gave his record in government ten out of ten, though an ungrateful electorate scored rather less well and his Cabinet colleagues performed even worse.

Sadly, they were ill-equipped to grasp his unique qualities of leadership. Milord Peter Mandelson reached broadly similar conclusions. Their instant apologia are meant to be the last word on the subject, living obituaries on 13 years in power.

So what are we to make of the verdict of New Labour's two most respectable cheerleaders, who offer a 'not good enough' six out of ten for their government's performance? Toynbee and Walker (they sound like an old-established firm of country solicitors - 'very reliable, y'know') are not persuaded. Indeed, they are jolly cross, in that Guardian sort of way you know will never come to anything. They find it hard to suppress a rising sense of indignation, asking 'why not more, much more?'

Why indeed? It's a bit late to start complaining now. Even a comprehensive assessment of the Blair-Brown record, which this isn't, could not make amends for the missed opportunities and mulish caution that characterised their government. The authors might be better occupied offering a manifesto for the Ed Miliband era, except that there are no official reports or provincial reportage to help them in their work. The Verdict relies heavily in these sources, along with some ardent socio-economic observation. A Blue Book with purple passages.

The pair have been compared to Sidney and Beatrice Webb, which must be very flattering, but who reads the Webbs today?

Toynbee and Walker take us back exhaustively through the New Labour years, having already done so twice with Did Things Get Better? (2001) and Better Or Worse?

(2005). The question mark is always a bad sign. Either they don't know the answer or it's just a publishing come-on. They conclude that Britain did indeed change during the Labour years, but not always for the better, and not necessarily because of anything the government did. Arguably, the mobile phone changed society more than Labour did.

Their big test is not how many schools and hospitals were built, but what happened in the lives and minds of citizens. …

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