In his speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research yesterday, Tony Blair was once again in visionary mode. The Prime Minister told his audience that he intends to transform Britain's creaky welfare state into a vibrant "opportunity society" where the public will have access to excellent public services and where everyone will fulfil their potential. Mr Blair believes that making Britain into such a place will be his legacy.
This is doubtless a laudable ambition. And in his speech Mr Blair correctly identified the weaknesses of many aspects of the public services. The National Health Service is unwieldy, inefficient and needs to be made more responsive to patients' needs. Too many secondary schools are failing and the comprehensive system needs to be broken up. Mr Blair is also quite right to argue that money alone will not make the public services better.
The trouble is that we have heard such bold rhetoric from the Prime Minister many times before. He proclaims his intention to implement intensive reform only to capitulate in the face of the Chancellor's intransigence, or be diverted by events on the world stage. Mr Blair talks a good game but has failed to deliver.
It is worrying, too, that the Prime Minister seems to have decided that reforming the core public services is not a big-enough task for a Labour third term, but that he must find solutions to problems such as the obesity crisis and public drunkenness. Yesterday, he put forward a collection of half-baked ideas that are surely destined to meet the same fate as his idea of marching yobs to cash points. The Prime Minister should concentrate on keeping his existing promises, rather than making new ones.
Mr Blair's speech was an exercise in the type of cynical gesture politics that the Government should have left behind. There are already signs that Number 10 is attempting to spin Adair Turner's pensions report to its own advantage, as seen in Mr Blair's attempts yesterday to portray pensions reform as part of Labour's radical vision for a third term. The Prime Minister should realise that it is no good forever talking about radicalism. In the end, he is going to have to demonstrate it.