As the UK's political commentariat descend on Tony Blair's Sedgefield constituency and begin the near impossible task of neatly summarising the Prime Minister's legacy ahead of his June 27th departure they could do a lot worse than look for inspiration in his government's environmental record.
Whichever way you look at it Labour's decidedly mixed bag of environmental policies embody many of the contradictions that have made the Blair years so difficult to define. Whether it was the combination of stunning oratory and appalling execution, heartfelt good intentions and disingenuous political spin, international statesmanship and ill conceived domestic policies, or brave legislation and timid compromises, all the defining characteristics of Blairism were present and correct.
It was back in early 1997 with Blair still in opposition and the Tory government on the ropes, when the Labour Party pledged that it would not only be a clean government, stamping out the sleaze that engulfed the fag-end of John Major's premiership, but also a green government.
Most notably Micheal Meacher, the then shadow environment secretary and current leadership challenger to Gordon Brown's coronation, insisted in a speech that the Labour government would be "the first truly green government that Britain has ever seen".
So, ten years on, has this bold pledge been fulfilled? Well, as with so many of Labour's eye catching pre-1997 promises, technically it is easy for the government to argue that the commitment has been met - but that has not stopped a lot of people feeling hugely disappointed.
There is little doubt Blair has overseen the greenest government in British history. On the international stage Blair's championing of the climate change issue helped deliver the Kyoto Treaty and make the environment a central plank of European policy, while at home the inclusion of targets on carbon emission reductions in each of his government's manifestos entrenched global warming in the public eye and helped establish the environment as a now critical political battleground.
Furthermore, in a move that may form a central plank in his much discussed legacy Blair also had a hand in introducing the world's first legally binding targets for carbon emission cuts in the form of the recently unveiled climate change bill. It may have come at the end of his time in office and it may be Gordon Brown who rubberstamps the new law, but as the threat posed by global warming becomes ever more serious Blair has as much chance of being remembered for the climate change bill as he does for any other piece of domestic legislation.
In short the Blair Premiership has been the greenest in British history – the first UK government to position the environment as a central political issue and develop policies to match its new found status.
However, what is far less clear is if Blair's interest in the environment was a factor of strong leadership or simply a result of the new scientific and public reality. Surely any government ruling over the last decade would by definition have been the greenest government in UK history, because an increasingly environmentally aware public would have demanded as much?
In this light, it is far easier to understand why environmental bodies such as Friends of the Earth are using today's announcement of Blair's resignation to accuse him of weakness and inconsistency in his green efforts.
As Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth points out, Blair may have recognised climate change as "the world's greatest environmental challenge", he may have described the Stern Review and its warnings of climatic catastrophe as the most important report he had read in office, and he may have delivered the world's first legally binding targets for carbon emissions, but he also oversaw a two percent increase in UK carbon emissions between 1997 and 2006.
This increase is hardly surprising given that the government's environmental policies continued to operate as isolated initiatives, annexed from those Whitehall departments which continued to adopt policies that would inevitably lead to increased carbon emissions.
As Blair rang world leaders drumming up support for Kyoto his government funded a massive increase in spending on new roads and oversaw a period when the cost of motoring fell in real terms while the cost of public transport continued to climb.
As Blair talked up the importance of the Stern Report, laid the groundwork for the climate change bill and signed the UK up to Europe's emissions trading scheme he also gave the green light to the biggest airport expansion in British history and refused to deliver even the mildest admonishment to those who refuse to cut down on their flying.
As Blair revelled in the strong leadership and courage in his convictions it took to face down protestors over the Iraq invasion and fox hunting ban, he caved in to the fuel protestors and scrapped the fuel duty escalator, leading to a decline in the proportion of revenue raised through green taxes.
If Blair has won plaudits for laying the legislative foundations for a greener economy he must also face up to the disastrous mish-mash of contradictory policies and initiatives that have up to now undermined almost every attempt to reduce the UK's carbon emissions – a situation that only weakens the government's attempts to take a leadership position on the world stage.
But if this combination of good intentions and poor execution has been disappointing it pales into insignificance compared to the lost opportunity of the last two years.
When Blair first took office one of his government's strongest suits was its ability to keep its finger firmly on the public mood, but following his third election victory and with his advisors desperately searching for an issue to give the third term purpose the old magic left them and the chance to tap into the growing public and corporate goodwill towards environmental initiatives was lost.
Back in 1997 it took real political courage for Blair to break with the US position and lead the fight for the Kyoto Accord, but nine years on with public opinion finally swinging behind the environmental movement that courage evidently deserted Blair and the chance to make the beginning of the transition to the low carbon economy one of the defining achievements of his time in office was lost.
Business leaders may have implored the government for more support and leadership when it came to the environment, but Blair and his advisors failed to pick up on the changing attitudes of the business community and refused to believe their ears, failing to offer the financial support and package of clear climate change policies that the UK's corporate elite actually requested.
Thankfully for Blair's successor it is not too late to begin this process and it will be interesting to see if Brown, desperate for a big defining issues to give his premiership early momentum, is more in touch with the new reality of the green business movement and more willing to develop the tough legislation and generous subsidies necessary to transform the economy.
If the last ten years has taught us anything it is that Tony Blair is not a man who is particularly big on regrets. But it is easy to imagine that in a few years time, when the glamour of life in Number Ten has finally worn off, the former Prime Minister may well take a break from the US lecture tour to wonder if while he was busy bickering with Brown and answering questions about cash for honours he missed a golden opportunity to make the UK a genuine leader in the new low carbon economy.
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