The legacy of Tony Blair

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
September 03, 2010, 12:14 AM GMT+0

57% of the British public think former Prime Minister Tony Blair is ‘likeable’, although opinion remains divided over the legacy that he will leave behind, our survey shows.

While a mere three percent of the population think history will rate Mr. Blair as a ‘great’ Prime Minister, a respectable 34% think he will be considered ‘pretty good’. 25% think he will be judged as mediocre, and a further 31% believe he will be forever remembered as 'fairly' or 'disastrously bad'.

The divided picture comes as the media frenzy surrounding the much anticipated release of Blair’s autobiography, entitled A Journey, continues. As critics dissect the former PM’s memoirs word for word, suggestions abound that history will not be kind to the former Labour leader. But despite the widely disparaging media coverage, our poll paints a much more diverse picture of public opinion.

41% of people themselves think that Blair was a ‘fairly’ or ‘very good’ Prime Minister, while a statistically similar 44% consider him ‘fairly’ or ‘very bad’.

Blair’s biggest crime

And despite media focus on the 2003 war in Iraq, the public identifies Blair’s biggest crime while in office to be ‘allowing immigration to rise to unacceptable levels’: 62% chose this option when asked to identify his three biggest failures while in office. However, only 30% of those aged 18 to 24 identified increased immigration as a failure, compared to a staggering 78% of those over 60.

Unsurprisingly, though, the UK’s participation in the US-led invasion of Iraq came in a close second in the list, with 56% feeling that it was one of Blair’s biggest failures. This result was backed up by the third of a list of crucial errors, with 34% choosing ‘allowing Britain’s policy to be dictated, in effect, by the United States’ as one of their three biggest Blair errors.

Triumph and achievement

But it’s not all bad news for Blair. Over half of the public identifying his three biggest successes responded that ‘introducing the minimum wage’ was a big achievement during his time as PM. 46% selected ‘bringing peace to Northern Ireland’ as a triumph, while nearly one in four (24%) members of the public think he provided Britain with ‘steady economic growth, nearly full employment and low inflation’. 23% also felt that his time in Government improved ‘education and the NHS’.

And despite intense criticism of his behaviour, over half of the British public admires his determination; 66% agree that ‘whatever you may think of his policies, as Prime Minister Tony Blair always did what he thought was right.’

The impact of the legacy appears split; while 34% feel that ‘it would be a mistake for Labour to turn its back on [Blair’s] legacy’. 30% however, feel that the new Labour party will need to ‘distance itself’ from Blair if it is ever to ‘get back into power’. But as the voting for a new Labour leader continues, with criticism having been levelled at frontrunner David Miliband for his refusal to reject New Labour Blairite policies, the public’s viewpoint of Blair’s troubled legacy may yet take on new meaning.

Survey details and full results