Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Does Blair Merit an 'Ism' After his Name?

I am a huge admirer of Simon Jenkins- making him number one in my top ten political columnists, if anyone remembers- but I fear I don't altogether agree with today's article. In it he argues that, as we approach tributes appropriate to Tony's departure, we should be clear there is no such 'ism' as 'Blairism'. I'd agree any 'ism' requires a 'coherent set of ideas' and that it's hard to find any such construction in the wide mish-mash of New Labour ideas.

He goes on to assert that both Brown and Blair were converted to 'Thatcherism' 'by conviction in the early nineties and have never deserted the faith.' It's hard to deny the adherence of both Labour leaders to the tenets of market capitalism, the virtues (not to mention the vices) of which were emblazoned on the memory of the former Tory leader. However, I think he over eggs his thesis when he claims 'New Labour' represented a 'coup' or 'hijack' of the party by Blair and his acolytes which 'made Thatcherism safe for for another decade'.

Firstly, Steven Fielding's 2003 book on The Labour Party, disposes, for me at any rate, of the coup idea convincingly and establishes an umbilical connection between Blair's approach and the mainstream of pre 1979 social democratic thinking.

Secondly, as he proceeds to develop his argument, Jenkins is factually incorrect to state that under Blair 'the poor have appeared to have grown poorer under Blair'- the rich have certainly become richer and inequality has increased, but over the past decade the poor have become richer not poorer.

Finally, I would argue that Tony Blair has, if not a fully developed ideology to his name, then at least a fundamental tenet of supreme importance: that Thatcherism or market economics should be allied to the principles of social justice. Jenkins' criticism of New Labour's embrace of capitalism could equally apply to Swedish social democracy which has also sought to increase the size of the cake via a disciplined free enterprise economy; in contrast, few on the left take issue with such a successful and egalitarian outcome.

Both the Swedes and New Labour have tried to distribute the fruits of wealth creation in a more equitable fashion, to the many rather than the few. Thatcherism never accepted social justice as a political goal. It is the success of Brown and Blair's joint vision which deserves to be recognised; they might not have convinced Thatcher to share it but they have managed to convince the fresh-faced David Cameron. To this extent, at least, there has been a highly significant 'ism' which Blair, should he choose, can proudly append to his surname.

Please don't conflate Blair and Sweden. The smallest mention of 'redistribution' is enough to make most Blairites wretch.

Both Blair and the Swedish SocDems have given a healthy level of support to the private sector, but Blair has done little that might upset its bosses, while the Swedes have done so fearlessly.
El Tom
Not sure re Swedes and big biz. After spending years developing a funding system designed to tax companies(I was living there at the time) the SAP quietly forgot about it when in power. I agree Blairites have been subdued about their more left-wing policies for fear of alarming middle class supporters. But the fact is they have pushed them through, which i think makes a comparison with Sverige relevant.
Interesting thought - Cameron is in fact 'Son of Blair'!! I thought your response, and the original Jenkins article, was extremely interesting as we enter the Blair twilight zone, and have referred my students to it (v. helpful for A2 political ideologies course) via my blog. Unfortunately, I have accidentally created a 'link to this post'on your blog which doesn't work, so my sincere apologies - please feel free to remove it if you can! I'm obviously not very technically adept!!
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