Two of Labour's most incisive critics explore the performance of the Blair government's first administration. They compare the pledge made in the manifesto with the government's actions, and they seek to establish which groups have had their interests served, and which have been sidelined. The book examines every aspect of the administration, from their notorious attempts to manipulate the new agenda to the high profile attempts to reduce class sizes, the levels of child poverty and rates of long-term unemployment. It should provide the most comprehensive and fair-minded report on the achievements and failures of New Labour.
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New Labour came into office on a wave of popular support and as politicians and the electorate prepare themselves for another general election (possibly postponed because of what is happening down on the farm), the recent Brown Budget has established a commanding beachhead for securing a second term. What has happened in between times is the subject of the authors' audit of the Blair Government's achievements.
Toynbee and Walker may be social democrats to the core (both are commentators on the Guardian newspaper) but they have striven for an objectivity in balancing the bouquets of red roses they hand out where they see success and brickbats where they find failure and missed opportunities. The Chancellor's mantra of monetary prudence, as they see it, mitigated against more than should and could have been done to resuscitate the nation's deprived public services and infrastructure.
But their audit is not just a statistical examination of economic and fiscal management. Their prognosis is studded with revealing insights into social policy, education and measures to improve the environment, all areas which earn their pluses and minuses. In their final analysis the authors argue that things did get better but they could have been even better ... if only. Two cheers, then, from the politically sympathetic scribes, but Toynbee and Walker earn themselves three for a thoroughly well-written, researched and, in many respects, objective analysis of what has occurred under New Labour.--Michael Hatfield
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