September 25, 2010

IF ONLY MAVERICK HAD BEEN MORE OF A BLAIRITE:

In Defense of the West—and the Third Way: 'In today's world, a progressive party that stands essentially for big government is not going to succeed.' (BRET STEPHENS , 9/25/10, WSJ)

"People forget this, but the closest I came to losing my job in a [parliamentary] vote was actually over tuition fees [for university students], and not over Iraq. The most difficult things were . . . introducing private-sector [reforms] into the health-care system, introducing academy schools, the equivalent of charter schools, and law and order."

It's a useful reminder. When Mr. Blair and Gordon Brown first came to office, the New Labour moniker was widely suspected of being a kind of political marketing device rather than representing a real change of heart by a party that had once been a de facto subsidiary of Britain's trade unions. But if Mr. Blair's memoir is anything to go by, he for one was a sincere convert to the New Labour faith. Among other things, it explains his current opposition to high rates of marginal taxation.

"The most important thing is to encourage strong growth, for the economy to create wealth. And I just think this is a very basic point . . . you need tax rates that are competitive with the world in which we live and in which people's hard work and enterprise is rewarded." As for the notion that the purpose of progressive governance is to tax the wealthy and redistribute it to the rest, Mr. Blair urges caution: "The people you end up hitting are not the very wealthy, because in my experience the very wealthy can make their own arrangements."

Mr. Blair is similarly worried about the perils of excessive regulation. While he believes that governments were right to respond to the financial crisis as they initially did, he worries that the recovery runs the risk of regulatory strangulation. "How you stabilize the economy is not the same as how you then get it let out of the crisis and back to strong growth, where you will need the private sector to be enterprising, innovative and able to compete." Nor does he have any patience with the demonization of the financial sector as "the bad guys" in the crisis.

The question arises of how Mr. Blair—a prep school boy and Oxford graduate who came to the Labour Party more from its intellectually Fabian wing than from the trade union movement—came by his views. Partly it's to do with his own father's rise from working-class roots, and partly by the pre-political years he spent as a commercial and industrial-relations lawyer, where he learned that "most people aspire to do better and most people actually want their kids to do better than them—and these are actually great engines of growth and progress."

But he also says his views are informed by traveling to emerging economies such as China. "These are all places where, if we're not careful, they are going to learn the lessons of our development and, funnily enough, they're not going to replicate all those lessons. . . . They will learn from our successes as well as our mistakes. And if we're not careful, they are going to leave us behind."

So much of what Mr. Blair says is so consonant with the political right-of-center that I ask him if he doesn't feel closer to John McCain politically than to Barack Obama. He laughs it off, calling himself a straight "Democrat-Labour" kind of guy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 25, 2010 7:46 AM
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