May 8, 2007


A man without history: The Third Way was not an ideology, but a classy fudge that the Prime Minister soon abandoned for Messianic belligerence (David Marquand, 07 May 2007, New Statesman)

Tony Blair's prime ministership began as a paradox and ended as a tragedy. Electorally, he has been the most successful leader in Labour's history, and one of the two most successful party leaders since the Second World War. Labour's 1997 majority was its biggest ever, and the big gest any party had won since 1935. Its extraordinary sociological and cultural scope mattered even more than the numbers. In the intoxicating months that followed Blair's arrival at No 10, his vast coalition seemed to embrace virtually all sectors of opinion and to subsume almost all cultural and ethnic identities. Campaigners for gay rights rubbed shoulders with champions of family values; class-war mastodons marched alongside votaries of the free market; Diane Abbott's Hackney constituents held hands with Gisela Stuart's from leafy Edgbaston. Blair himself - classless, rootless and ideology-lite - seemed the summation of all the contradictions and ambiguities of the nation which had elected him.

Of course, there was a price. The Blair coalition was meant to be the vehicle of a Blair project, just as the preceding Thatcher coalition had been the vehicle of the Thatcher project. There was a profound difference between the two, however. Thatcher was a revolutionary. Her purpose was to extirpate the legacy, not just of the disastrous governments of the 1970s, but of all the governments of the preceding 60 years.

The Blair coalition was a very different animal. In domestic affairs, Blair was a consolidator, not a revolutionary. The last thing he wanted was to extirpate Thatcher's legacy. He wanted to take it over, to assimilate it and to embed it in the nation's psyche. To do that, he had to soften it at the edges; to humanise it; and, above all, to give it a less abrasive and intimidating aspect. But, unlike Thatcher, he could not openly explain what he was up to. For one thing, his coalition included most of the casualties of the Thatcher revolution as well as many of the beneficiaries, and he had to keep the casualties on board. He had to keep his party on board as well; and though it was willing to jump through an astonishing range of hoops to get back into power, an open avowal of his neo-Thatcherite intentions might have been too much for it. The coalition that had enabled him to command the political stage was, in fact, unfit for the purpose he had in mind.

Even as he prepares to exit the stage, no one has offered a more profound insight into Tony Blair than Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Atlantic Monthly profile when he was first elected: "You have to remember," says someone who knows him, "that the great passion in his life is his hatred of the Labour Party"

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 8, 2007 7:12 AM

"that the great passion in his life is his hatred of the Labour Party"

Is that the hatred of someone attempting to reform from within, or the general self-hatred of the Left in general, or the Marxian version of hating a party which would have someone like him running it?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 8, 2007 3:30 PM