August 18, 2007


The private man I knew who drove the public revolution: Tony Blair, far from failing as a Prime Minister, has actually ushered in the most profound political change since Disraeli (Will Hutton, May 13, 2007, The Observer)

It still surprises me how much his Christianity matters to Tony Blair. He has never raised it in the conversations we have been having on and off for nearly 20 years. You just know it's there. In the early 1990s, he and I were both attending some now long-forgotten conference and a local vicar surprised me by saying he had received a call from Tony Blair's office wondering what time he held communion. Other vicars in the area had received the same call. This was plainly a different kind of Labour politician.

And so he has proved. The more I have thought about his politics the more I have come to see his religious belief as the missing piece of his personality, which he has chosen to keep buried in secular times for fear of being cast as preachy or part of the God squad. Without an understanding of his religion, both friends and enemies make the easy charge that Blair is the true heir to Mrs Thatcher, a crypto-Tory who has been seduced by the enormous patronage power of the British state, a Trojan horse for American capitalism and Bush's yes-man. [...]

[B]lair has invented a new strain of British politics - liberal Labour.

In this respect, I think Blair is going to be as important to the Labour party as Disraeli and Macmillan have been to the Tory party. They were politicians of the right who set out to appeal to the centre not as a political tactic, but because the values of the centre sat where they wanted to be, and so they invented liberal conservatism. Blair has made the same choice. He wants to associate his party and its values with the values of the British centre. The inescapable reality for any Labour intellectual or trade union leader who talks about the attractiveness of radical socialism is that this urge has won three general elections.

Blair will leave an indelible mark on the British left. Liberal Labour will become as important a political tradition within it as Methodism, trade unionism or socialism. And it could not have been done without Blair's values-based politics, of which Christianity was a key component.

Once you understand how central his religious faith was you understand why he was so comfortable following the Thatcher line and bonding with American presidents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 18, 2007 12:00 AM
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