Comment at end
3rd May 2010
Oliver Kamm: “But I shall vote Labour for this reason. The worse the Labour defeat, the more likely it is that the wrong person will be blamed: Tony Blair rather than Gordon Brown.”
So why exactly? Pulling no adjectival punches, Kamm says:
“This is a feeble, unimaginative, incompetent and intellectually incurious Prime Minister, whose hapless, cynical and dysfunctional government has debased the notion of public service, coarsened public life and forfeited any claim to public respect, and I shall be voting for its return to office next Thursday. This post, for what it’s worth, explains my reasoning. (It shouldn’t need saying, but of course, as with any signed comment, I’m speaking only for myself.)
I’m not turning on the PM only when he’s down. I’ve always thought he was useless and I said so. I founded that view on what everyone knew about him before he succeeded Tony Blair. He bore ferocious grudges, consulted closely with some pretty poisonous people, had large gaps in his knowledge, and from 2002 squandered what had previously been a good economic record of tight control of public spending. Total managed expenditure in 1999-2000, at 37.7 per cent of GDP, was at its lowest level since the early 1960s. Had Brown, as Chancellor, maintained the impeccably Keynesian course of building up surpluses during the boom, then Britain would have entered this recession in a much stronger state. (Incidentally, both of the other parties – especially the Lib Dems – criticised Brown in the late 1990s for excessively tight fiscal policy. How wrong they were.)
I’ve underestimated the Lib Dems in the past. I wish in retrospect that Labour and the Lib Dems had come to an agreement in the early days of Labour government in 1997. But Paddy Ashdown was as distinct a figure among the Lib Dems as Tony Blair was within Labour: that opportunity has gone, and so have they.
But I shall vote Labour for this reason. The worse the Labour defeat, the more likely it is that the wrong person will be blamed: Tony Blair rather than Gordon Brown. Guessing the future alignments of British politics is futile. Things can change radically. They might have done but eventually did not in the 1980s. But the safest route to preserving liberalism seems to me to be to shore up Labour’s support, ensure that David Miliband rather than Ed Balls becomes Leader of the Opposition after the election, and thereby help the British polity conform once again to the conventions of two-party politics. That may not be possible. If the electoral system ossifies political stalemate and sustains a Labour Party that would otherwise subside into an irrelevance comparable to that of the French Communist Party, then liberal strategy would need to change. But not now; not yet.”
If Tony Blair had been listened to in the mid to late 1990s, and his recommendations followed through from a position of strength, perhaps Labour would not be in their weakened Blairless position today.
A whole lot of issues might have been agreed, and a number of policies marking differentiation on the Left/Centre Left would have been resolved differently by now. Even without a merger or coalition Blair handed the Liberal Democrats policy fulfilments which they would never have achieved without his government, devolution being the obvious one.
In case you wonder, in my humble opinion the ONE policy that is the main reason for my being unable to vote Lib Dem is not a policy or decision that would have defeated Blair in such a coalition. In a Labour/Lib Dem coalition or political unity the Iraq decision would have been understood better.
The Liberal Democrats were wrong about Iraq and I am sure many of them know that in their heart of hearts.
(See my reports on Ashdown’s & Blair’s “Great Coalition/Merger Plan” here and a very recent post – “Paddy says Clegg is the New Blair”.)
As a blogging Blairite, I agree with this commenter at Kamm’s:
Rentoul also links to Peter Hitchens who says he will NOT be voting Tory, because he is annoyed with Cameron over reneging on a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
‘As the polling expert Mike Smithson says, whenever opinion polls are tested against real election results, it is the polling company which gave Labour the lowest level of support which turns out to be right. That was true even in 1997, but nevertheless Labour still won to become the only truly national party, able to represent town and the country, native and immigrant, Scotland, England and Wales, rich, middle class, working class and poor. “Labour is the political wing of the British people,” cried Tony Blair when he came to power. Thirteen years on, the shrunken remnants of his coalition are at war with themselves.’
All kind of depressing to read, isn’t it? Even if like me you’re not a Labour party member.
What do I think we need?
Ten more years of Blair. Not Blairism, nor Blairites, nor pseudo-Blairs like Cameron and Clegg. Nor Blair-pluses like Brown, Mandelson or Miliband. But the real thing.
Blair. Tony. Starting now. Next week might just be soon enough.