14 March 2019

Free Exchange: John Rentoul on Tony Blair


Tony Blair was arguably the most electorally successful Prime Minister in recent British history. And yet, if you ask British voters today what they think of the man behind New Labour the answer is not exactly an enthusiastic thumbs up. Just 22 per cent think Blair did a good job, while 49 per cent think he did a bad job.

Nowhere is the repudiation of Blair clearer than at the top of the Labour Party. For those with their hands on the reins today, ‘Blairite’ is about the worst insult going. And it is impossible to understand the rise of Corbyn without appreciating Blair’s legacy.

My guest this week is someone who takes a very different view of Blair. John Rentoul is the Independent’s chief political commentator who, unusually for a Westminster journalist, also teaches a course on Tony Blair with Jon Davis at King’s College, London.

Davis and Rentoul have just published a book on the Blair government aptly titled Heroes or Villains? The Blair Government Reconsidered. They make generous use of fascinating first-hand testimony to paint a more flattering portrait of New Labour than many on both the left or the right would agree with.

For this week’s episode of Free Exchange, I spoke to John Rentoul about things Blair: what were his biggest achievements? How much of the blame does he deserve for contemporary political problems? Why was his relationship with Gordon Brown quite so dysfunctional? And how, ultimately, will history judge him?

You can listen to the full episode here, or subscribe via iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Oliver Wiseman is Editor of CapX.