Chris Lancelot on... The Amateurism of Blair

What's the difference between an amateur and a professional? An amateur practises until he gets it right, a professional until he can't get it wrong. Amateurs (from the Latin amare: to love) do things because they love their subject - but that doesn't mean they are good at it.

And to my mind this sums up Tony Blair. He's loved being prime minister and selling his brand of socialism. I believe him when he says he wanted to do good things. I think he's an honourable man, not a liar, though very badly advised.

But unfortunately he's that most dangerous of people -someone who believes their own rhetoric. He also seems a rank amateur in many areas, yet still wants to control everything. Nowhere has this been more obvious than the NHS, which, over the past decade, has largely been run from Downing Street.

In his resignation announcement he asked us to think back to 1997, when waiting for an operation took over a year. Yes, that has improved. It's about the only thing that has, and it's costing the nation an extra £48 billion pounds each year. Concomitantly we've suffered a huge rise in NHS bureaucracy together with widespread threats of hospital closures and cutbacks and the loss of 20,000 nursing jobs - and total professional demoralisation.

We've also had Choose and Book - one of Tony's brainwaves. He thought one day, 'Wouldn't it be a good idea if patients could book NHS appointments as they can a plane ticket?' - completely ignoring the fact that airline pilots don't waste their time booking tickets and asking where passengers want to travel to.


Blair's heart is in the right place, but there has always been a chasm between concept and completion. He's dabbled in waters that are far too deep for him, of which Iraq is the prime example. Many of his big reforms - of the constitution and ID cards - are dangerous in the extreme. He's never understood the subtleties of health or the NHS, but that hasn't stopped him meddling.

Shorn of the spin and rhetoric, Blair's term of office will be seen in retrospect as disjointed, intrusive, amateurish, inefficient and expensive.

Once he has gone, and with no spin to shore things up, the whole Blairite house of cards will collapse - and probably on Gordon Brown's head.

- Dr Lancelot is a GP from Lancashire. Email him at

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