The Definition of Blairism
I fear that, in my article for The Independent on Sunday, I broke a rule that I expect my students to observe: first, define your terms. I said that most MPs were Blairites, but my definition of Blairism was inadequate:
The Blairite party’s policies, as well as choice-driven public service reform, include being on the side of the public on crime, immigration and national security.
I also pointed out that the benefits cap is a Blairite policy, and that the Blairites have no view about the deficit – that ought to be a matter of what works rather than ideology – but I should have been more specific.
I should have said the purpose of dominating the centre is to make society more open and equal. It is a socially liberal and moderately egalitarian doctrine,* and therefore it is not the same as Thatcherism, a common delusion of the anti-left (by whom I mean the people who think of themselves as left-wing but whose negativism and impossiblism is the greatest obstacle to the election of a Labour government).
In fact, if you want a definition of Blairism, you could do worse than read Fabian pamphlet no 565, Socialism, written by Tony Blair and published on 1 July 1994, during the Labour leadership election campaign that followed the death of John Smith.
This was, I think, the first outing for “social-ism”. It starts by saying:
The limitations of Thatcherism are clear. The claims of an economic miracle have evaporated [Oops; that was destined to happen again]. Society is divided. People are insecure. The public is once again ready to listen to notions associated with the Left – social justice, cohesion, equality of opportunity and community.
And, just in case you missed it, he repeated: “The Thatcherite project of the 1980s is over.” Sure, he was appealing for Labour votes at the time, and would say nicer things about the good things that Margaret Thatcher achieved when he came to the general election, but this 19-year-old Fabian essay still stands as a pretty good statement of Blairism.
*There are two important footnotes to this. One is that liberalism in the form of equal rights for women, ethnic minority and gay people, and toleration of different kinds of families does not necessarily mean being civilly liberal about crime. The other is that, as almost no one knows, the level of inequality stayed about the same throughout the Labour period 1997-2010, which I regard as an achievement in an open economy; while public services improved, to the disproportionate benefit of the less well off, and important changes to early years and education promise more equal opportunity for generations to come.
Photograph of Gordon Brown and Blair on day of Blair’s election as Labour leader, 21 July 1994: Tim Rooke/Rex FeaturesTagged in: blairism, tony blair
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