It is, but the early 90s seems far longer away in so many ways, and so does globetrotting, wheeler-dealing Blair. Who he is now and who the rest of us are makes it harder to evaluate his substantial record in office.
That Blair and Gordon Brown, a partnership whether they liked it or (sometimes) didn't, changed a great deal in modern Britain, much of it for the better, can hardly be denied. Yet this is routinely denied on both right and left for reasons that do not help our understanding.
To the Tories and their supporters in the tax-shy, oligarch press, the triple-election winner must be denigrated as a slick and phoney fixer, a selfish, superficial reformer who deceived himself and the country (not to mention the Tory leadership) into a disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq, from which stem so many current ills.
Margaret Thatcher, the only other recent tenant of Downing Street who arouses so much controversy, attracts similar denigration from the left, her substantial economic reforms dismissed, her wily pragmatism ignored, her many mistakes villified. But she retains a substantial body of admirers for whom the Iron Lady is the greatest prime minister since Churchill.
Blair is different, as hated and despised in more vocal communities on the left and even mainstream centre-left as he is on Fleet Street. For critics on the left he is a mere economic echo of Thatcher, hated architect of the New Labour conceit, a money-grabbing warmonger who now apes the super-rich and advises Murdoch acolyte Rebekah Brooks in her hour of need.
This is a form of Labour self-harming which is as damaging to self-esteem and future prospects as the personal kind. It persists at a time when Ed Miliband leads his party towards a 2015 general election – he will be 45 to Blair's 43 in 1997 – which should be very winnable, but doesn't feel so.
In their instincts and re-positionings the Milibandistas are more Brown than Blair. Yet they find it difficult to make a virtue of Brown's virtues and only grudgingly concede their well-intentioned hero made mistakes too. Attacking Blair or Blair's mistakes – real and otherwise – is easier. It reminds me of vice-president Al Gore distancing himself from Bill Clinton in the 2000 US election – a contest Gore lost (sort of) to George Bush, but Clinton would have won handily.
Of course, Blair has made it harder for himself. People who knew the two young Hackney-based lawyers in their 20s say they were always over-impressed by money and their pursuit of it since 2007 has embarrassed some who might otherwise merely have laughed at the vulgarity of it. Blair promotes (and funds) some good causes around the world; he probably mitigates the conduct of kleptocrats and authoritarian leaders, making them less wicked than they might otherwise be.
But he also uses his contacts book to enrich T Blair and fails to explain either himself, his actions or the opaque finances of his string of Windrush companies. Someone told me recently he'd brokered an oligarch's yacht sale, to the annoyance of brokers who might have got the fat fee themselves. Oh dear.
That said, his three administrations achieved a major shift in the way Britain runs itself and feels about itself, despite the disfiguring scar of Iraq and the distortions caused by the running Blair-Brown leadership issue, a struggle that can now be seen for what it was: more personal than ideological. After all, Brown brought back Peter Mandelson, whose career he had helped destablise.
What can be said for Blair's record 20 years on? He and his chancellor poured billions – the tax receipts of those City bankers they over-trusted – into public services, new schools and hospitals (via some flawed PFI contracts), more and better paid teachers, doctors and nurses, a revitalised NHS, council houses refurbished – though not rebuilt. He used the boom years to introduce the minimum wage – unemployment did not soar, far from it – improved worker protection, passed the Equality Act, got rid of section 28 and championed civil partnership.
Despite the Human Rights Act and (late and grudging) FoI legislation, New Labour often had a tin ear for civil rights and got hopelessly muddled over lifestyle choices – tough on smokers and hunters, lax towards drinkers and problem gamblers. But its enthusiasm for not being outbid by law-and-order Tories on sentencing policy and over-crowded prisons did not mean it was always wrong here either. Blair and David Blunkett understood that the poorest communities suffered most from lawlessness and violence, especially the petty kinds: hence Asbos, bobbies on beats and community support officers.
New Labour eased the plight of the worst-off pensioners and made over-elaborate tax credit schemes to see that work paid better than a life on benefits. Child care, Sure Start – practical help for families was utterly changed, so that nowadays the coalition competes on Labour's terms, just as it mostly does on sexuality and other social issues.
Peace in Northern Ireland, devolution for Scotland and Wales – both narratives have still to run their course before a proper evaluation becomes possible.
Brown's new regime for regulating finance failed in the crisis of 2007-9 (as did Washington's tested and Republican-run model) and the economy was allowed to overheat.
But Labour saved the bankers from themselves, and Brown saved us all from Blair's hopes (he never got to grips with economics) of taking Britain into the eurozone. Between them they were right to champion EU accession for the ex-Soviet A10 countries of eastern Europe, wrong to allow their citizens unfettered access before realising that Germany and France would not.
That strained public services – still does – and undermined the Labour-generated sense of a country more at ease with itself after those polarising Thatcher years. Reverberations from the attacks on 9/11 (7/7 in 2005, too), most obviously in the 2003 invasion and flawed occupation of Iraq, did more damage to cohesion. It will take a long time to make sense of it all. But Blair is right to say – as he, annoyingly, does quite often – that the crisis of modernism that generated violent Islamism was around long before British tanks rolled up the Basra road and has not yet abated across the Middle East.
As with the dramatic return to the centre of the world's affairs and economy of south and east Asia – India, China and the rest – after a 500-year sabbatical, such deeply structured events are beyond anyone's capacity to control, let alone that of dwindling British power on the self-imposed fringe of an EU that is itself shrinking.
An un-neurotic British relationship with Europe was another Blair project that taxied on the runway and stalled. But even that failure looks magnificent compared with David Cameron's out-of-touch EU blunders. In many ways Cameron models his leadership style on Blair's, but seems to lack his flair, energy and – possibly – his brains.
None of which will make any difference to tribal Blair haters of left or right, for both of whom his electoral successes, the unavoidable errors and controversies of the power victory delivers remain an affront to comfortable certainties. But the rest of us, less tied to rigidity, should be more discriminating.
We should tot up the balance sheet: lives saved in Kosovo, Belfast or Sierra Leone set against sectarian carnage unleashed in Iraq and unmediated in Syria. We should remember schools that no longer have outside loos, admire hospitals that treat ever-larger numbers of patients faster and better. Some of the credit is due to Blair, the leader who gets even more brickbats than a leader deserves. Does he mind? Probably, though he pretends not to – and works even harder on the sun tan.
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