Election day is upon us, so it only seems right to have a quick retrospective look at New Labour before the face of British politics is changed forever...again.
Like anyone with a heart, who was not a Thatcherite idiot-savant that is, the morning of 2nd May 1997 was a very good day. On the 1st May I had cast my vote for Vernon Coaker and for the first time since 1983 we had a Labour MP in an area with a long history of voting Tory.
And what exactly have New Labour achieved in their long residency at Number 10?
Their numerous accomplishments remain, for me, dwarfed by the cruel debacle of the illegal war in Iraq and the humiliating period of 2001-07, where Tony Blair acted as some kind of toothy lap dog to the retarded, Ivy League, monkey king pretender to the world's most powerful country. Iraq looms large, mainly for the huge loss of civilian life, never mind the raft of US and UK military causalities and for what exactly? Talk of war crimes and illegality has faded it seems but in my mind it remains incredibly strong.
Iraq is the distorting lens that leaves much of what the Labour party has achieved looking asinine and pyrrhic but there is much there to celebrate. The social-morality landscape of Britain has changed a great deal, some of this may merely be down to humanity's progress but Labour enacted much legislation to enable positive social reforms for women, ethnic minorities and the gay community; civil partnerships were a thing of dreams for many but now are a crucial reality and a stepping stone to the end of discrimination as we know it. Labour must be thanked for such steps.
Of course, New Labour's vision for electoral reform has not gone as far as I would've hoped but they moved in the right direction, with the House of Lords in better shape and reform ready, the FOI act passed and devolutionary powers to Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland and the current peace are also one of Labour's huge successes, although I do acknowledge it took numerous other parties, agencies and individuals to work together to achieve the situation we have now and although by no means perfect, I am old enough to remember the IRA as a very real threat on the UK mainland and acts of violence and terror a depressing and seemingly regular occurrence.
I am unashamed to say that, although I will not be voting for him, I believe Gordon Brown to be one of our finest chancellors and his stewardship of the UK economy and the measures he took created a far more equal society (the minimum wage being one of New Labour's finest achievements, along with the creation of an independent Bank of England), with a genuine effort to reduce poverty, consistently low unemployment and enabling a move away from crash and burn economics; rather spoilt admittedly by the global financial crisis.
The endless money pit that is our public services have also been transformed and heavily (perhaps too heavily) invested in, so that we are blessed with new schools, hospitals and facilities for social governance, such as Job Centres, Health Centres and Connexions Centres for young people. NHS waiting times have plummeted from 21 weeks under the Tories in 1997 to around 6 weeks as of now and previous lows at around 4 weeks in 2007.
As someone who used to work with young mothers, the impact of Sure Start cannot be underestimated, and neither should improvements to YOT teams and YIP projects and the transformation of the cranky and dusty old Careers Service into the young person friendly and focused Connexions.
And with regards to the industry I work in, let us not forget that the arts, dying under Thatcher and Major, has been rejuvenated, albeit with a clever and helpful dose of gambling money, which has marginally silenced the right-wing hectoring of what tax payers money is being spent on but rather, quite bizarrely, what gambler's money is being spent on...
In the minus column, aside from the crippling blow of Iraq, is the fact that when New Labour came to power in 1997 some 5 million 'working adults' were subsidised by the state and this figure remains unmoved today and for all the racist arguments of 'immigrants stealing our jobs', they have in reality filled a gap which UK citizens were unwilling to fill. The re-jigging of the benefits system has failed cut down on elements of institutionalised family state subsidy, whilst managing to demonise other claimants. A lose-lose.
A huge negative about Labour was their endless infringements upon human rights and civil liberties, under the overarching catch-all theme of the War on Terror (Copyright. Trademark. All Rights Reserved), which enabled them to pass some awful legislation that is only softened, in my mind, by the fact that Tories would've been far, far worse.
Another downside for me has been the explosion, under Labour, of bureaucratic middle-men agencies, the worst of which are the Regional Development Agencies, monoliths that entrap large swathes of government funding and then deal it out, whilst themselves costing a bloody fortune.
Finally and whilst speaking of bureaucracy, education is another sector I've worked in and has suffered terribly under New Labour. Whether it be the vulgar league table (a blight on many of our public services and a device that only ever leads to fixing the figures), SATS, paperwork of teachers and the ever increasing obsession with the GCSE as a measuring device for our children, whilst harder to measure subjects are sacrificed at the alter of 5 A-C's.
And the perverse, schizoid drive by Labour to increase participation in higher education by opening up glorified sixth form colleges as universities offering God awful subjects, whilst simultaneously bringing in tuition fees, swinging cuts to the grants systems and saddling graduates with huge student loan debts; is one of the biggest errors of its tenureship.
So yes, things should've have got a lot better under New Labour but let us not forget that they did achieve a great deal and more importantly, that the Conservatives would've been so very much worse...