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Tony Blair and his Labour Party have reached their sell-by dates. But whoever follows is likely to spend the next decade cleaning up the mess Blair left behind.
LONDON, U.K. — Ruling parties in Western democracies have a limited shelf life and in Britain it's rarely more than a decade. The reinvented Labour Party that swept Tony Blair into power more than a dozen years ago is clearly way beyond its "sell by" date. Sometime in the next few months voters will throw it out in a general election, ending an era that turned stodgy old England into Cool Britannia.
Tony Blair's Britain was a feel-good place. Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had made the country more efficient and prosperous in the 1980s. It had less unemployment and more job opportunities than continental Europe. Blair continued the Thatcher revolution, but called it "New Labour" and sweetened it by throwing lots of money at schools, hospitals and social services.
Much of the spending was off the books. It's now obvious that Cool Britannia was living beyond its means.
On top of those huge debts, New Labour encouraged the country's booming banks to take foolish risks in a no-holds-barred race to become the financial capital of the world. That was a bet that cost the taxpayers billions when the great recession of 2008-2009 shook world financial markets. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who stepped into Blair's shoes in 2007, was forced to nationalize leading banks to keep the financial system from collapsing. So much for his vaunted economic acumen.
In some ways, Britain is now worse off than when New Labour came to power in 1997. It's flat broke, discontented and in far worse fiscal shape than Germany, France or the United States. As a dreadful year draws to a wintry close, angry labor unions are threatening to make life even more difficult for the government.
Tony Blair, whose winning smile and way with words made him seem invulnerable, is now reviled by much of the British media and the country at large.