Tony Blair exits Britain’s political stage next week. Which side he is leaving from, however, is open to question. Having won three consecutive majorities, he’s the country’s most successful left-wing prime minister ever. Or is he?

I adhere to the old-fashioned notion that what a politician does in office is more important than the number of elections won. By this standard, it’s hard to conclude Mr. Blair was a lefty at all: Britain went backward during his era in the things that matter most to our side of the political spectrum. Britain is a leaner, meaner, more unequal society than when Mr. Blair came to power. And considering he inherited Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, that’s saying something.

Of course, no one expected Mr. Blair to undo the dramatic changes wrought by Ms. Thatcher. He took office in 1997 after deliberately watering down Labour Party policies and distancing himself from the past. But few thought he would actually take Britain in the wrong direction.

Here are seven ways Britain actually shifted to the right during Mr. Blair’s tenure. The list doesn’t even include the disastrous endorsement of George W. Bush’s military adventures — just the home front:

Inequality: Income inequality and poverty didn’t budge, staying at the levels reached under Ms. Thatcher. Wealth inequality actually got worse: In 1997, the richest 1 per cent of Britons owned one-quarter of all wealth (excluding dwellings); today they own one-third.

Children: Nothing reveals the soul of a society more than how it treats its children. Last year, the United Kingdom ranked dead last on UNICEF’s ranking of 21 industrialized countries for the quality of children’s lives.

Tuition Fees: Even when they go off to school, Mr. Blair hurt the kids. He broke a campaign promise and introduced “market-sensitive” tuition fees at universities — now worth many thousands of dollars.

Unions: Mr. Blair kept almost all of Ms. Thatcher’s anti-union laws, and union membership declined further.

Industry: 1.25 million manufacturing jobs disappeared under Mr. Blair, cementing Britain’s status as an industrial has-been. He oversaw the near-demise of Britain’s automotive industry, and watched its merchandise trade deficit swell to 6.5 per cent of GDP.

Privatization: Mr. Blair extended Ms. Thatcher’s commitment to selling off public assets, but he did it in disguise. He pioneered public-private partnerships, in which taxpayers bear the risks while investors reap the profits.

The Labour Party itself: Needless to say, the activists who worked their behinds off to bring Mr. Blair to power quickly lost enthusiasm under his unprincipled rule. It was Mr. Blair’s deliberate goal to break the ties binding his government’s policies to actual party decisions. It’s poetic justice that Labour membership fell by more than half during his rule, leaving his successors without a grassroots base.

In each case, it wasn’t that Mr. Blair failed to undo Ms. Thatcher’s right-wing shift or to fulfill the hopes of the progressive voters who elected him. Rather, he actually led Britain in the wrong direction. Despite a few positive measures (like Britain’s first minimum wage, and modest increases in public spending), there’s no doubt the country remains one of the most market-oriented, business-dominated, unequal jurisdictions in the developed world.

There are lessons in Mr. Blair’s legacy for those who still aspire to build a more inclusive, equal society. Most important is that merely electing someone who professes to share your views is no guarantee you’ll even head in the right direction. Mr. Blair’s foremost goal, in retrospect, was getting elected, not changing society. And despite the initial relief at ousting the Conservatives, that wasn’t enough to put Britain back on track.

Worst of all, the groups that should have demanded more from Mr. Blair were silenced by their allegiance to Labour’s electoral strategy. They mostly kept their mouths shut as Mr. Blair headed in an increasingly conservative direction. Only recently have they found their voices again.

That’s a crucial lesson for Canada’s lefties to keep in mind, given our own fractured and confusing political landscape. The experience of Blairism proves we must keep our eyes on the prize (namely, better policies) — not on the party.

Jim Stanford

Jim Stanford is economist and director of the Centre for Future Work, and divides his time between Vancouver and Sydney. He has a PhD in economics from the New School for Social Research in New York,...