The vacuum is here to stay.
In case you're wondering, it wasn't up to much. In fact, it was typical Blair, filled with the same meaningless nonsense which has now been blathered about for nine years.
The era of tribal political leadership is over in Britain with "rampant cross-dressing" on policy set to become a permanent feature of modern politics, Tony Blair told News Corp executives in conclave in the Californian resort of Pebble Beach yesterday.
In an elegiac survey of his nine-year leadership, Mr Blair claimed the true divisions opening up across the world were now not between left and right, but between advocates of modern, open societies and closed, traditional ones.
Absolute and utter rubbish. The left-right divide is still there for everyone to see; it's only the politicians themselves who want to remove the spectrum from view, and that's because they want to hide the fact that nearly all of them say exactly the same thing and have policies which are almost indistinguishable from one another. This all began with Blair making the break from New Labour, the idea that without rejecting the past that Labour would never return to office. This was nonsense then, and it's nonsense now. In the aftermath of Black Wednesday, Labour was always going to win the 1997 election. If John Smith had lived, he would almost certainly of become prime minister.
The ideological break came with the establishment of what was called the "third way". Neither left nor right, but something entirely new. In the event, what this third way meant in practice and still means is essentially Thatcherism with a kinder face. The ultimate example of this was the way Labour didn't dare to touch the Tory spending plans for a couple of years, lest they be accused of returning to the tax and spend policies which they had supposedly promised to leave behind. The third way meant sucking up to what had previously been seen as the nest of vipers which was the Daily Mail and the Sun, and with Major being made a laughing stock, it worked for a while. The Sun came out for Labour a few weeks before the 97 election, when previously on the day of the election in 92 it informed its readers that if they were the last to leave if Kinnock won, would they please turn out the light? Kinnock himself blamed the Mail and Sun for losing in 92. There was therefore no chance that Blair would dare to anger the Rothermeres' and Murdoch.
It has to be said that there have been some successes regarding the "third way". Nominally left wing policies such as the huge rise in spending on the NHS and schools have now become such sacred cows that the Tories cannot dare to question them, to the horror of their own right wing. Alongside this though the "third way" has meant the acceleration of the private finance initiative in providing new hospitals and schools; contracts which will result in millions for companies over decades, but which aren't on the chancellors budget books for now. The reintroduction of the market in health care, the use of private consultants for various operations are all examples of how Blair has thrown off the ideological shackles with no regard for what is the best value for both money and care. In education, academies which require sponsors who can then dictate an amount of the curriculum are resulting in schools where creationists are taking control, as well as where minor indiscipline is now also leading to suspension and expulsion. Trust schools, which no one wanted except the Tories and Blair, will be exploited to their full potential if Cameron manages to get back in.
But I digress. Back to Blair:
He defended boldness in his political leadership, saying: "In these times caution is error; to hesitate is to lose", adding that his worry has been that he has not been radical enough in his leadership.
Yes, a non-sequitur, one of Blair's favourite methods of talking complete bollocks but which looks like it means something on the surface. What Blair really means here is that he's dedicated to pleasing the headlines of the newspapers. While the left and the Guardian often urge caution and suggest to take things slower and to come to policy agreements over time, as well as having trials first, such as over the introduction of 24-hour drinking licenses and liberalisation of gambling, what Blair does is respond. If the Sun is screaming about asylum seekers, he cracks down. If the Mail suggests that yobs need tackling, along come ASBOs and the idea of summary justice. If the Sun demands that we have a referendum on the EU constitution, then bam, we get one, even if he'd suggested just days earlier that there was no need whatsoever for one. In essence, Blair has always known where his bread is buttered, and it's buttered with the rich and the powerful. He has to be especially careful now he has a reduced majority in parliament, hence why we've seen the complete capitulation of home office policy to the Sun, and the obscene and deadly way we've adopted US foreign policy without any debate.
Mr Blair, who flew by helicopter from San Francisco to the exclusive Pebble Beach resort to make his speech, argued that modern political debate in Europe and the US was "no longer between socialists and capitalists but instead between the globalisers and the advocates of protectionism, isolationism and nativism", which he described as issues of migration and national identity.
Blair is right on one thing here. Socialism as it was is dead. There's no turning back on that score. However, the purpose of the left now is to attempt to make capitalism kinder: to redistribute, to dull the worst excesses of mass consumerism, and to make sure that business is regulated not too heavily, but not too lightly either. Blair though conflates what he sees as protectionism and isolationism with what is actually self-preservation and being more critical of our allies. The example of the Peugeot workers is one of so-called protectionism: it's well known that they're being sacked here because our rules on employment are less stringent than they are on the continent, even though the factory to be closed is more productive than those in France.
Blair is such an ardent believer in the "special relationship" that he'll support America over absolutely anything: he involved us in a war in Iraq which we had no need to join in, a war we could have instead helped stop. The result is a country heading towards civil war where over 100,000 may well have died. His complete sycophancy towards the Bush administration position on Israel has lead directly to the deaths we saw yesterday in Qana. The refusal to demand an immediate ceasefire means that more have died than was necessary, and more will continue to die until they demand it. That isn't about isolating ourselves from the world at large, or rejecting the special relationship. The very best friends you can have are critical ones.
The prime minister argued: "Most confusingly for modern politicians, many of the policy prescriptions cross traditional left-right lines. Basic values, attitudes to the positive role of government, social objectives - these still divide among familiar party lines, but on policy cross-dressing is rampant and a feature of modern politics that will stay.
Again, more nonsense. Evidence that the left-right lines still exist are evidenced by the hatred that some quarters of the media have shown towards the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act should be a shining example of what a Labour government has brought in which has made life better for everyone in the country, and of the left's basic values. Instead it gets the blame for what are seen as "unpopular" decisions, such as that regarding the Afghan hijackers fleeing the Taliban and over control orders. The Sun demands that it be repealed, or the "worst" parts of it either struck out or amended. David Cameron suggested a UK bill of rights, only to be universally laughed at, especially because he hadn't consulted Kenneth Clarke, the man in charge of constitutional and democratic policy, who then described Cameron's idea as almost "xenophobic".
Attitudes to the positive role of government is not a good example of left-right attitudes being abandoned; mainly because the Blairites has thrown themselves in with the Tories in regarding the state as evil. Listen to Cameron go on about charitable organisations and entrepreneurs, without explaining how they'll make up for what the state provides in programmes such as Sure Start. The fact of the matter is that Blair has similarly repudiated the state - hence the ever rising involvement of the private sector in the NHS. The left still believes in the state and is right to - but Blair doesn't.
"In these conditions political leaders have to back their instinct and lead. The media climate will often be harsh. NGOs and pressure groups with single causes can be benevolent, but also can exercise a kind of malign tyranny over public debate.
"For a leader, don't let your ego be carried away by the praise or your spirit diminished by the criticism and look on each with a very searching eye. But for heaven's sake lead."
Yes, it gets worse. NGOs and pressure groups apparently can exercise a malign tyranny over public debate, but the media climate can often only be "harsh". The most obvious example of a malign tyranny on public debate is of course, the Sun - (proprietor: R Murdoch) a newspaper that tells it readers what they want and has an overbearing influence on the government. Hence the Sun believed every word of the "intelligence" on Iraq - mainly because Mr Murdoch thought it would lead to a barrel of oil being $20, not out of his feelings for the oppressed, murdered and tortured citizens of the country. When Dr David Kelly tragically took his own life, the Sun knew who was to blame, and it sure wasn't the government. The BBC came in for a battering day after day after day. When it came to terrorist suspects being held in custody for up to 90 days without charge, the Sun used an image of a man injured in the 7/7 bombings who was opposed to Blair's demands, with no apology given. When MPs voted against the plans, those who dared to exercise the right to represent both the public and their own minds were called traitors for their trouble.
All this support comes at a price though - hence the hysteria over the criminal justice system being "unbalanced", years of attacks on those fleeing persecution who came just wanting sanctuary, resulting in crackdown after crackdown on "bogus" asylum seekers and immigrants in general, and the demands for the Human Rights Act to be axed. Blair doesn't name what NGOs or single-issue lobbies he finds most distasteful, but we can be they're the same ones which cause him the most trouble: the likes of Liberty, the Stop the War coalition and various human rights groupings that don't turn a blind eye to abuses which the government does.
For Blair to pretend that he doesn't let his ego get carried away with praise is perverse. Here is a man that prefers the company of Silvio Berlusconi, Rupert Murdoch and others than to his cabinet or natural Labour supporters. His obsession with the rich has led to his biggest disaster on the home front: the loans for peerages scandal. He's more than capable of ignoring criticism, he's done that for years. Praise however will get you places.
Here though comes the most hypocritical line of them all:
My concern is that we cannot win this struggle by military means or security measures alone, or even principally by them.
"We have to put up our ideas against theirs. But our cause will only triumph if people see it is based on even-handedness, on fairness, on a deep and genuine passion to help others."
You only have to see the post previous to this one to realise what this means for everyone apart from Blair in practice. He's quite right that military and security means will never triumph on their own, yet still he wants to throw away hard-won liberties in the fight against terror. He either can't or won't criticise the destruction that Israel has heaped on Lebanon, out of all proportion to what started the conflict. Most of all, his government has been complicit in torture, as evidenced by Craig Murray in Uzbekistan, and by the rendition flights that ministers still refuse to admit they had any knowledge about. To Blair, even-handedness and the passion to help others only extends once the bombing has ended.
Blair then sums up his duration as prime minister in one speech. There's no doubting that at the low-level, Labour has improved Britain. The NHS, despite the problems it's now suffering has greatly improved. Education results are getting better, although whether this is down to pupils and students only being taught for the exam and nothing else is an argument that we should be having. Redistribution through tax credits, although badly flawed, is going on. Sure Start centres are helping the under-privileged with families immensely.
Yet there's so much more Blair could have achieved with his majorities. Instead, in his pursuit of headlines, of his lust for American power and continuing reliance on doing things almost entirely designed to rile both Labour backbenchers and his nominal support, he's failed. He'll be remembered, not for his political courage, but for his vacuousness. He led his party to victory, but without any love between him or them. The road ahead looks bleak, but not for Tony. He'll be with his friends making speeches across America, writing his memoirs and most likely sniping at the party which he has broken. Lucky for him, David Cameron seems ready to continue his legacy, although whether the kinder face of Thatcherism will remain we have yet to find out.