September 4, 2010


Tony Blair's autobiography is an instruction manual for David Cameron: The Coalition are Tony Blair's true heirs – and his memoir shows as much (Matthew D'Ancona, 04 Sep 2010, Daily Telegraph)

t its most intriguing level, this book is not about the Labour Party at all. The journey it describes encompasses the birth of New Labour, the new Clause Four, three general election victories, the coup against Blair in 2006 and the defeat of Brown in 2010. But the journey's end is not the fall of Labour government; it is the birth of the Coalition. All roads lead to that destination.

This is partly a question of form: Blair himself was an obsessive coalition-builder. Of his time as Opposition leader: "I could see how a coalition of the well-off and the less well-off could establish points of common interest." Of the Fundamental Savings Review of 2005-6, thwarted by Brown: "This was, in my mind, right in itself, but also critical to dealing with the 'big state' and 'tax and spend' arguments that I was sure, in time, would pull apart our coalition in the country, and therefore our ability to win."

Of course, Blair's coalition was not inter-party, except in the limited sense that he persuaded some prominent Tory MPs to defect. His greater insight was that, as class, ideological tradition and tribal identity ceased to be reliable determinants of voting behaviour, all governments would have to be electoral coalitions, drawing support as promiscuously as possible from across the social and political spectrum. Blair's "Big Tent" was the precursor to Cameron's Coalition. What happened in 2010, Blair asserts, is that Labour squandered its own coalition. But Dave and Nick were on hand to build their own.

That's the form. But there is content, too. Those who say Blair is a Conservative are plain wrong. His political roots lie in the ethical socialism of the philosopher John Macmurray and the traditions of Christian socialism espoused by
F D Maurice, Charles Kingsley, R H Tawney and Archbishop William Temple. That said, he has none of the visceral hatred of conservatives felt by – for example – Gordon Brown. George W Bush has, he writes, "the qualities I admire in conservatives". Of Margaret Thatcher, still a demon figure to the Left, Blair declares: "On the whole, she was undoubtedly a great prime minister." His instinct is to look for common ground with his notional opponents, not to seek out and paint in garish red the "dividing lines" so beloved of Brown.

As for Cameron himself, Blair cuffs him once or twice like an errant nephew, complaining that the Tory leader has not "gone through the arduous but ultimately highly educative apprenticeship I had gone through in the 1980s and early 1990s". He (rightly) criticises the Coalition for its weakness on law and order. He observes that the Lib Dems and Tories "don't really agree" – but then goes on to say that, "on the other hand, they have a common interest in stability". In truth, his critique is pretty perfunctory and certainly reveals no overwhelming impatience to undermine and dislodge Cameron and Clegg. Naturally, he would prefer to see his protégé, David Miliband, rather than the Tory incumbent in Number 10. But Ed Miliband or Ed Balls? I wonder.

...when it took them 13 years to figure this out?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 4, 2010 3:32 PM
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