Key policy lessons of the “Blair years” for future governments

The end of the “Blair decade” offers an ideal chance to review the progress of public service and economic reform; to learn the successes and errors of ten years of different approaches to these key political priorities.

Facts and figures

In his valedictory speeches, Tony Blair presented statistics that gave the impression of a better Britain across the board. A truer picture would recognise that:

  • the record in both the economy and public services is mixed (at best), with aggregate performance very poor in many areas;
  • society and economy remain profoundly divided between different interest groups, age groups and regions;
  • a large number of improvements – both in the economy and public services – are due to private initiative. These include key government measures for public services such as mortality rates, examination results and crime; and
  • given the key role of private initiative, the most worrying indicators concern taxation and public spending. Contrary to the post-1970 trend, in 1999-00 the public spending-to-GDP ratio began a major expansion of five percentage points. Taxation is rising to pay for it: from a trough in 2002-03 of 35.2 per cent, the tax burden will reach 38.1 per cent in 2008-09 which will be the highest level since 1984-85.