I’ll start by getting this out of the way first. I have absolutely no time for Blairism or what it represents in UK politics. I have always seen it as a curious political aberration that has probably done more than any other political ‘ism’ to destroy trust in UK politics. It’s not just the Iraq war or the attempt to build that appalling anti-civil libertarian state, with all its ID cards and 92 days detention. It isn’t even the quasi Thatcherite innovations such as Foundation Hospitals and Tuition Fees. It’s not even Tony Blair himself with all his post Chilcot defiance and lack of contrition. It is just the sheer dishonesty of the project and what it has done to all who inhabit the space on the left of UK politics.
Blairism, or ‘New Labour’ as it liked to style itself emerged out of the crisis in the Labour Party in the 1980s. Riven and diminished by one of its periodic left/right conflicts ‘New’ Labour offered itself as a low risk accommodation to the prevailing right wing political culture of the time. As a revisionist movement it immediately got down to the work of eroding the social democrat base of the Labour Party before becoming confident enough to effectively abolish Labour’s historic commitment to socialism when it amended the iconic Clause 4. Presenting itself as a ‘more competent’ electorally acceptable ‘Conservative’ party it found easy success against the real Conservative Party which was effectively destroyed after acquiring a reputation for economic incompetence and laughable public scandals.
the key thing about New Labour, though, was it was always more about reforming the Labour party than reforming our national politics.
The Labour Attlee Government established the post war welfare state consensus so comprehensively and effectively that is was quickly adopted as the political mainstream. For most of the end of the last century politics was characterised by a gentle tick tock of the political pendulum around what that inspiring Labour Government bequeathed. That was until the political mould was shattered with the arrival of Thatcherism. Where New Labour likes to style itself as a dynamic political force it was but a mere whimper compared to the ear shattering bellows of the arrival of Thatcherism.
Thatcher simply ripped up the cosy bi-party post war statist consensus with her Friedman/Hayek inspired version of Manchester Liberal economics. Thatcher re-invented our national political culture and if Blairism is to be defined historically as being anything in particular we can only conclude that it is nothing but a sorry footnote to the political revolution of high Thatcherism. Thatcher reset the political pendulum so far to the right that 20 years on it still remains defiantly un-recalibrated. The Blairites in government did next to nothing to try and tilt that political pendulum back even a notch.
The Blairites governed as socially acceptable Thatcherites. For all the minimum wage introducing and devolution delivering it is hard to see any move away from the orthodoxy of Thatcherism. Anti-union laws were kept in place, PFI was expanded, financial markets de-regulated, military adventurism reached a peak and the privatisation of public services was actually speeded up.
Blairism only came to an end when the real Conservatives became electable again with a more electable, charismatic representative of Thatcherite orthodoxy than the curious (anti Blairite) Blairite Gordon Brown.
Out of power Blairism remains the most powerful faction in the Parliamentary Labour Party. It’s roots are deep and the most significant Parliamentary figures are the old (and new) true believers. There is also this deep sense of entitlement and self belief buoyed by the fact that Blairism as a then necessary Conservative force won three General elections. In recent years you can still feel the grasp of Blairism on Labour policy on things like supporting Tory spending plans and Tory welfare caps.
But politics has moved on and across Europe the old decaying social democratic parties are in crisis as unsatisfied populations look for more substantial solutions to their many and manifest problems. Blairism finds itself out of date and unable to respond to the fast changing political environment and fast changing political contexts. Blairites are simply not adept and nimble enough to recognise the new reality and the fact that the electorate has already moved on.
The last great (and doomed) chapter of Blairism will be in trying to hold on to a Labour Party that has already slipped from its grasp. Why on earth the Blairites think they will ever be embraced again in a party that sees them as part of the problem is almost beyond belief?
They are already part of our political history and they will not be judged favourably when their movement is eventually chronicled. Blairism destroyed the credibility of the left in the UK and their petulant death throes have ceded the ground in England to UKIP and the other transient populists. We can only say good bye and good riddance. We will never see their likes again.