Thursday, May 10, 2007

Goodbye Mr Blair

And so, after months of speculation, Tony Blair has announced that he will stand down as Prime Minister on 27 June 2007, ten years after he was elected. The BBC news featured a slightly rose-tinted look at his life in power, accompanied by the Oasis track Don't look back in Anger and claim that after 10 years the general public will know whether they think Blair was a success.

Which got me thinking - what does this mean to me? So here goes, the Labour years as relevant to me. I have done my main period of growing up to the backdrop of Blair; I was a child before he came to power, I am an adult now he is leaving.

In 1997 I was 15. It was the end of my fourth year, one year away from GCSEs. Politics didn't mean a huge amount to me in 1997. I remember my parents staying up to find out the election results and there being a general sense of excitment - that there was a new party; a new vision for the future. A New Labour. It didn't mean too much though - my knowledge of the conservative years was gained later, at university. But for me, well, I suppose I was more concerned with teenage issues than national ones. Getting a boyfriend, getting good grades, gymnastics, sailing, friends, parties. Those were my daily issues, not politics. I didn't really give university much thought, other than the fact I knew I wanted to go to Exeter and I wanted to read English. Fees weren't something that even entered my mind. Maybe they should have done. Two of the schools in the area merged; our gymnastics club had to be moved. Local issues - national problems, but again, not something that really bothered me.

In 1998 I started sixth form; I started to become more aware of national issues, of politics, of economics. More aware, but uninterested. Too many distractions. I suppose I was aware that the Americans had attacked Iraq, but if I was, I don't remember. A levels, parties, drinking, learning to drive and university applications were more prevelant.

In 2000 I went up to university. My parents paid the fees and I signed up to the student loans company to pay for the rest. In 2001 foot and mouth disease struck and I worried for farmers, particularly my aunt and uncle. I voted in my first election (more out of a sense of obligation to women dying for the vote than because I favoured one party or that I was particularly interested). In September that year I sat in a restaurant in Gran Canaria and watched terrorists fly planes into the World Trade Centre. I didn't know where it was until Bush came onto the television to make a speech as the commentary was in Spanish. My main thoughts centred on friends and family - we had lived in America for 2 years in the late 1980s and we had many friends still there, as well as worrying that a simultaneous attack would occur in the UK. My flight was the first one allowed back into London and I suddenly felt very small and vulnerable in a large world where I had very little control.

In 2002 I moved into a house in Exeter with 3 friends. One was studying for an MA in Middle Eastern Politics, another dating a Royal Engineer. We sat together on the sofa one evening in March 2003 glued to BBC New 24 watching the allied troops invading Iraq, wondering how it was that England had become involved in such a war, and praying desperately that Stuart would survive his time in Iraq unscathed. 4 years on, Stuart has returned but many other of our friends have qualified as officers and are currently in Iraq leading troops in form and another. My interest in politics increased through personal fear and an amazing resource of information living in the next room.

In 2004 I moved to London, to start Law School. The government announced top up fees for university and I took out loans to pay for my continuing education. Interest rates were still low - I gave little thought to what would happen if they started to rise (which of course they did and still are).

In 2005 I graduated from further education and started to look for a job. In an emotional few weeks, we went to the Glastonbury festival and joined in with the Make Poverty History campaign, watched people protest at the G8 summit, celebrated when we won the 2012 Olympic bid and then sat in front of the TV for an entire day on the day when 4 British men who had been known to MI5 blew themselves up on the tube network, killing 52, injuring many many more and affecting every single Londoner. I made a promise to my grandfather to get on the tube again, which I did, but it still didn't stop me walking everywhere for the next few weeks. On 21 July, I was sat in the law school library when the second wave of bombs hit. I had a call from my sister in Spain before I could even tell my mum that I was ok. In our consumer driven, media hyped generation, news travels fast. Later in 2005 I watched as David Cameron was elected leader of the conservative party and I began to think about politics in relation to me, and which party I actually wanted to vote for. I still don't know.

In 2006 I joined the Women's Institute. In July I started this blog. I was more worried about issues such as global warming and how we could all do our bit to reduce it than I was interested in national politics. I made sure that I was more informed; I read papers, websites, blogs, opinions. I discussed every issue with friends and family but I can't really say that my view of Labour and of Blair was anything more than ambivilent. We went to the St John's College garden party and my father commented that it was probably for the best that Blair didn't show up. Members of the Labour party were questionned on the 'cash for honours scandal'. I worried about whether I would ever find a training contract, about interest rates and house prices; whether I would be able to afford to have a child or go on holiday.

And now, in 2007, I am a trainee solicitor, with bills and debts, a rented flat and an oyster card. I am more cynical, more aware and it is only recently I have started to use the tube again without thinking twice. Interest rates have sunk and risen again; I know that the NHS is better than it was, yet my friends who are nurses and doctors still complain of the long hours, poor pay and shambolic junior doctor application systems. I am able to see my doctor if I turn up and wait, but I can't get an appointment until the next week. I pay almost £7 for a prescription. Yet I know that the NHS is better than it was (although I can't understand why my sister at university in Wales gets free prescriptions). I did have a pension but in changing jobs I have to transfer it (there is no pension at my new job) and I don't trust the state pension scheme.

I believe Tony Blair when he says "hand on heart, I did what I thought was right". Hindsight is a wonderful thing; it is lucky for many of us that we don't have the press and public scrutunising our every word, move and decision. But then, I suppose our decisions and mistakes have slightly fewer repucussions. I find it hard to decide, one way or another, whether Blair has done a good job. It is impossible to please all of the people all of the time. I can't say that invading Iraq was a mistake, as I cannot for certain say what would have happened if we hadn't. I think the world is less safe, more unsettled. I think people are, or believe themselves to be, more aware and less willing to be spoon fed information without questionning it. People are more eager to demonstrate their opinions, to march, to write, to discuss, to sign petitions. But whether a different Prime Minister or different leading party will make England any better, I don't know.


lain said...

Wow, what an amazing post. Definitely one of your best ever.

Praguetory said...

Cool post. I hope you vote blue.

Anonymous said...

Your entry affected me. I supposed I am at the stage in my life where I am more and more aware, and to be more and more interested.
I admire all you have done, and how you have done it, and wanted you to know that.
I believe one of the reasons people leave their most private thoughts and emotions in cold type font on the worlds centre stage, the internet, is so it can provoke thought in others. Well big sis, you have certainly done that.