June 25, 2007


Thatcherism lives on after Tony Blair: Gordon Brown, too, is guided by the Iron Lady's spirit (Simon Jenkins, June 26, 2007, The Australian)

WHEN Tony Blair entered Downing Street in 1997, he had to decide whom first to invite to his new home. Surely it would be one of his Labour predecessors, Jim Callaghan, Michael Foot or Neil Kinnock, all itching for an invitation? No. The lucky guest was Margaret Thatcher. Round she came, and in spirit she never left.

As Blair leaves office, political historians are going to get him completely wrong. [...]

Brown proved more Thatcherite than any of his predecessors, plunging in where they had feared to tread. Thatcher had opposed rail, coal and post office privatisation. Brown not only accepted every privatisation so far undertaken but faced down Blair and insisted that the London Tube be sold on risk-free 30-year contracts to private companies. And in social policy the new Government entered realms that the Tories treated as no-go areas.

Blair's adherence to the outlook of his heroine was not confined to home affairs. He soon turned his back on seeking the heart of Europe - as she and Major had both done on taking office - in favour of the US bond. While half-hearted attempts were made by Robin Cook to clothe Blair's adventurism in ethical garb, it was essentially, if vaguely, neo-imperial. It pronounced a Western values agenda to be imposed on sovereign states at will. The politics of fear and a wildly inflated war on terror became the leitmotif of speech after speech. Told by Thatcher to "hug Washington close", Blair did so to a fault, from the mountains of Bora Bora to the streets of Fallujah and the cells of Guantanamo Bay.

Blair has been a true son of Thatcher. Essentially a presidentialist, he appealed over the heads of political and democratic institutions to the people at large. He found a shattered shell of a party and bent it to his will. His wayward treatment of policy shows a man devoid of personal ideology. He may not have been a dyed-in-the-wool Thatcherite in the sense that Brown became one under the influence of the treasury. To Blair, Thatcherism was part reality check, part opportunism. But neither he nor Brown changed the main premises of policy they found on entering office in 1997. What appeared to have worked for the Tories they made certain worked for them. I see no reason why the man who takes office as prime minister this week should seek any other way. As it says over the gates of the temple, there is no alternative.

Mush as partisans on both sides of the pond (of both parties in both cases, oddly enough) hate Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, historians will find it impossible to distinguish them from their conservative predecessors and successors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 25, 2007 1:44 PM

You can't tell the difference between Clinton's Supreme Court appointments and GWB's?

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 26, 2007 12:19 AM

Darn, future historians are destined to be as partisan and thick-headed as those in the past.

Posted by: erp at June 26, 2007 9:01 AM