Stop pandering to political enemies and start to deliver on all those promises

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A decent holiday is supposed to refresh the body and prepare the mind for challenges ahead. As Tony Blair returns to Downing Street, he no doubt feels suitably refreshed after another rather controversial vacation. But he has a Herculean task before him: can he seduce both his party and the wider electorate to fall for his political charms once again?

A decent holiday is supposed to refresh the body and prepare the mind for challenges ahead. As Tony Blair returns to Downing Street, he no doubt feels suitably refreshed after another rather controversial vacation. But he has a Herculean task before him: can he seduce both his party and the wider electorate to fall for his political charms once again?

Despite serving seven years as Prime Minister, Mr Blair has failed to prove himself as a visionary politician or to deliver on many of his promises. Thanks to the ramshackle state of the Opposition, he is likely to retain power at the next general election, but there is more to politics than just clinging to power. It is hard to deny that the major achievements of his government, such as the introduction of the minimum wage, came in the first two years of his premiership. The economic stability Britain has enjoyed since 1997 can be laid at the door of his neighbour, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who can also claim much of the credit for the increased expenditure on public services. As two landslide general election victories testify, the Prime Minister is an excellent salesman, but it is by no means clear what he is selling.

Before jetting off on holiday, Mr Blair unveiled a series of five-year plans for health, education and transport. Over the next few months, more Government departments will proclaim similarly grandiose visions. The aim is to give an impression of dynamism at the heart of Government - but this is a dynamism that simply does not exist.

The NHS, despite the billions that have been lavished on it, remains inefficient and unresponsive to patients' needs. The paltry attempts to decentralise control, such as the creation of foundation hospitals, have been sabotaged by vested interests. The five-year plan for transport is an admission of failure. The Government has given up on the laudable objective of getting people out of their cars and on to trains and seems resigned to concreting over the countryside to build more roads.

As for the policies on criminal justice and immigration, the primary aim seems to be appeasing the right-wing press. Meanwhile the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is eroding civil liberties and enraging ethnic minorites under the pretence of making us safer from terrorism. And the cause of greater engagement with Europe and making a case for the euro has been pushed off the agenda.

Such timidity is inexcusable considering Labour's crushing majority in the House of Commons and the weakness of the Tories. The re-appearance of the trivial issue of fox-hunting on the parliamentary agenda, a blatant sop to disaffected elements in the Labour Party, serves to demonstrate only how the New Labour juggernaut is running on empty tanks.

There is one subject where everyone knows where Mr Blair stands. Unfortunately for him, this is also his greatest weakness. In the absence of substantial achievements at home, Mr Blair runs the risk of being remembered chiefly for his misadventure in Iraq. The failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, combined with the mishandling of the occupation and his dogged loyalty to the neo-Conservatives in Washington, hang like a millstone around the Prime Minister's neck.

Mr Blair's peacemaking in Northern Ireland and humanitarian intervention in Kosovo are a distant memory. His bold rhetoric two years ago on healing Africa, that "scar on the conscience of the world", now sounds like little more than empty posturing, as Aids ravages the continent, Robert Mugabe continues to terrorise Zimbabwe, the conflict in the Congo rumbles on and Sudan descends into chaos.

But it is not too late. If Mr Blair were to force through genuinely radical reform of the public services, start proselytising for Europe and stop cosying up to President George Bush, he could yet win a more positive verdict from historians. He seems almost certain to win the next general election. He must stop making empty promises, forget about pandering to his political enemies and start to deliver on his pledges to the electorate.

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