Labour's anniversary: How was it for you? Part Two

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Indy Politics

PHILIP PULLMAN
Novelist

When Labour came into power, it was one of the happiest days I can remember and I greeted it with great joy... but it didn't last. We were all conned.

To me, Tony Blair's just empty, there's nothing there. I can't bear his American-style informality nor his relationship with the US for that matter. All this sucking up to the Americans – I can't stand it.

Roger McGough's poem "The leader" is, to me, a wonderful comment on Blair: "I wanna be the leader/ I wanna be the leader/ Can I be the leader?/ Can I? I can? Promise? Promise?/ Yippee I'm the leader/ I'm the leader/ OK what shall we do?"

I wish both he and Labour had more strength. There is a weakness there in a moral sense – Labour has no certainty, no conviction, no moral direction. But I'll continue to vote for them – if only because I detest the other side even more.

CLAIRE RAYNER
Agony aunt

Tony Blair broke my heart. Since the 1945 election, I was besotted with the Labour Party. Politics was all we had. We didn't have pop stars and all that nonsense. I knew the name of every Cabinet minister. I'm now a member of the Liberal Democrats.

New Labour has neglected the elderly very badly. Blair also needs to start treating refugees like human beings. The best thing about this country is its refugees, from the earliest times. Now they are being treated like criminals. It's beyond me how a Labour government could do that. We are the fourth richest country in the world. We can afford them. Blair's government has just pandered to the lowest level of opinion.

SIR MARTIN REES
Astronomer Royal

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown lead the most decent and competent government we've had for 50 years. They've achieved a great deal in social policies, economic management, and constitutional reform. In my own areas – education, science and innovation – many changes have been well-judged and effective. My only regret is that there hasn't been a sharper break with some Tory attitudes – Labour is still too prone to import business culture into inappropriate contexts.

MARTIN ROWSON
Cartoonist

Tony Blair is worse than I'd feared. I first clocked him when he was shadowing at the Home Office and he reminded me of a nauseating Christian school prefect. His ethos is salvation through penance. He moralised to the Labour Party, telling them, "You've lost all those elections and it's all your fault. Your penance is to take away all the things you love, like Clause 4 and socialism and egalitarianism. I'm your salvation". He's got that Messianic glint in his eye.

He's very tough on his own side, but when George Bush or Rupert Murdoch or a member of the Royal Family comes along, his tongue rolls out like a red carpet. I grow in my hatred of him with every passing day, especially for his slavish stance towards the Americans. It was understandable in the wake of 11 September, but his support for a war in Iraq is unforgivable. It's really a war between the Bush and Hussein dynasties. It's got nothing to do with our national interests or the war against terrorism.

What does he want? Perhaps he wants to be remembered by history as a great prime minister, but, given his abandonment of principle, that is a judgement history is unlikely to make.

IQBAL SACRANIE
Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain

Under New Labour, there has been a clear recognition that the faith communities have an important role in our society. Muslims have been elected and appointed into mainstream politics. There are now two Muslim MPs and four Muslim peers. The voice of Muslims is being heard in the heart of political life. For the first time, two Muslim schools have been established under government grant-maintained status. We already had Christian and Jewish schools, but Muslim schools were never accepted before. There has also been various legislation to protect members of faith communities from discrimination and hate-crimes.

In the wake of 11 September, there was sufficient support and protection from the Government and the police. However, we are disappointed by the Government's foreign policy. Britain's respect in the Muslim world is being undermined by our government's support for US policies, especially in the Middle East.

WILL SELF
Writer and broadcaster

I never had any expectations of Tony Blair in the first place. I've been one of his longest-standing critics in the media. In fact, in a piece for The Independent in 1995 called "Heroes and Villains", he was my villain. For more than seven years, I've been criticising Blair. I've never liked the guy. I find him a humourless, political gourmand – although I hear he's a brilliant mimic. As for his foreign position, he's like a poodle with his feet in Europe and his head in the lap of George Bush.

He's got a while longer left in government, though. He'll manage a third term and then the knives will be out – although it'll be due to a downturn in the economy rather than on any ethical or moral account. He is Thatcher's child and lives by an expanding economy.

DAVID STARKEY
Historian and critic

It seems to me that this government has been a continuation of the last. There has been very little change from the government of Thatcher or Major. The economy, Northern Ireland, the health service, inspections, centralisation – all are a throwback to the Tory approach.

As for the Budget, it was an exercise of folly. Blair is essentially a lightweight. He is good at low-key rhetoric but is not good at relating ends and means. He has no interest in policy detail, unlike Thatcher and Churchill. The present government is a creature of the moment, blown about by public opinion, statistics and Europe.

MARK STEEL
Writer and comedian

The country's enthusiasm for Labour has slowly dissipated, and we're left looking back on our excitement in 1997 with mild embarrassment. It's like coming across a photo of yourself in the Seventies with bad sideburns, clutching a Slade record – you're left wondering what on earth possessed you.

People thought that things would be different with Labour, but Blair and his administration are not far removed from Thatcher, and the new era we were hoping for hasn't materialised. On the whole, though, Tony's an all-right bloke – if only that Gordon Brown would stop sniping.

PETER TATCHELL
Human-rights campaigner

Blair's few positive achievements are meagre compensation for his many disappointments.

Even well-intentioned policies, like spending more on the NHS, are bound to fail. The whole ethos of the health service needs to switch from curative to preventive medicine. But Blair hasn't got the vision or courage to make those changes. He is a follower, not a leader.

Labour has blocked gay equality a total of 15 times, on issues such as protection against discrimination and pension rights for same-sex partners. It opposes workplace democracy, and treats refugees like criminals.

Blair has transformed Labour into the party of big business, surrounding himself with a privileged élite that he has rewarded with ever-greater riches.

ANN WIDDECOMBE MP
Former Shadow-Home Secretary

In 1997, people really thought there was a new beginning, that there was some magic solution to crime, to the health service, to transport that only needed a bit of good will and fine words to be achieved; the new government would be morally superior to its predecessor, without sleaze or greed; it would be democratic, the people's government. Five years on, such happy visions lie in ruins: waiting-lists are longer than ever, violent crime has soared by 26 per cent, transport is in chaos, the Government has been the subject of scandal after scandal, and the Prime Minister is generally recognised to be one of the most arrogant and undemocratic ever. To hide from the truth of how he is perceived at home, Tony Blair now spends vast amounts of time abroad where he is feted and glad-handed as he once was here.

What a let-down. What a failure.

PETER WILBY
Editor of the 'New Statesman'

I think Tony Blair was better at getting his party into power and making Labour electable (for which we should all be very grateful), rather than actually knowing what to do with power. He is not a strategic thinker and has carried on like he is still the Opposition, He makes lots of wild pledges like bringing the health service up to the European average without much thought as to how he's going to get there.

That lack of strategy and ultimate aim is shown up by how he bounces from one philosophy to another. There has been a long procession of attempts to put a philosophical wrapping around him – but none of it works. He has to be given credit however for keeping Labour in power and being the only left-wing leader who tells his voters the truth and doesn't treat them with contempt.

MICHAEL WINNER
Film-maker and writer

I think Labour has fared quite well. Tony Blair was so amazed that he got in after the natural rule of the Tories that he held back in his first term of office for fear of upsetting anyone. But he is now faced with the worst Opposition I can remember and that emboldens him.

He is a crusading person who puts dynamic moves into operation. But where he has failed is on law and order. He has done almost nothing about the rise in crime, and his inability to secure the streets for voters is appalling. He is a charismatic leader, very "of today", and is deeply respected throughout the world. I personally find him a very jolly and likeable chap.

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