6th May – Happy Birthday, Mr Blair – from Tribune (!?)
Comment at end
6th May, 2008
Being one ahead of many of the “progressives” on the Left is hardly rewarding, when they and many like them, have nonetheless been successful in doing the wrong thing. Reading the banner at the top of Tribune’s page – ‘Poodle UK is dead – no flowers please’ – referring to Brown’s first prime ministerial visit to Bush’s pad in Washington and his (then) tough stance, looks like it needs updating; in several ways. And the sad thing is that even though it’s Tony Blair’s birthday today, I don’t think he’d think it a great gift if Tribune made a new banner mast saying – “Bring Back Blair TODAY”.
Ten Years of New Labour edited by Matt Beech and Simon Lee Palgrave Macmillan, £19.99
‘BEFORE you read any further you should take a seat and have the smelling salts to hand. For what you are about to receive, you may not be truly thankful. For it is written in this good book that Tony Blair was more successful in terms of Labour’s objective of expanding provision of services through public expenditure than Jim Callaghan, Harold Wilson or even Clement Attlee.
For those who see TB as the JC of the Church of Latter Day Neo-Cons, it only gets worse. Not only was public expenditure during the Blair years significantly increased above the levels reached by previous Labour governments, it was also applied to key areas of spending. Not only was he the most electorally successful Labour leader but, for the individual programmes of health, education, social security, defence, law and order, and trade and industry, Blair outdid – indeed, outspent – his illustrious party predecessors.
This is an aspect of the Blair premiership which has not been much reported in recent instant histories of his time at Number 10. Further, the essays in this book – edited by two lecturers in politics at the University of Hull – suggest that the man who invented New Labour “remained loyal to the Croslandite tradition and the belief in high quality public services”.
Now, and this being an academic tome, there is more to it than that. It is pointed out that both Prime Minister Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown were governing in different times to their party predecessors. They did not have to deal with price controls; the ability of government to subsidise or control rents; to influence the price of utilities; or even to seek to control wage inflation.
In a chapter on New Labour and public expenditure by Maurice Mullard and Raymond Swaray they say that in the Blair years income inequality, which had been a focal point for previous Labour governments, became a “non-issue”. In fact, under Blair, inequality in income between rich and poor increased.
And, lest it appear that this book is some kind of hagiography, there is plenty of material here which analyses in some detail the failures as well as the successes of government under a man who has already become the most controversial leader in the history of the Labour Party.
His sofa style of governing is considered, and unfavourably, and his engagement – but only up to a point – with Europe is examined, not entirely favourably. His international engagement is analysed and, as an academic study, the conclusion is suitably balanced. David Lonsdale says Blair had some “notable successes” in Sierra Leone and (eventually) in Kosovo. But on Iraq, while he says that Blair “showed courage” the war was badly handled strategically, even if many of the errors were the responsibility of Bush rather than Blair.
Other areas covered include Labour’s dominance of modern British politics, the political economy, social policy, rebellions – the notion of New Labour as highly disciplined is something of a myth – and the new constitutionalism.
The concluding chapter, a mark of how fair the editors have set out to be, argues that mainstream British politics is still governed by “neo-liberal ideas and values”. That, to quote Matt Beech’s summary of his fellow editor Simon Lee’s view: “Even though Blair has gone and Brown remains, Thatcher lives.”
Whatever your personal political take on Tony Blair, all of the subjects are thoroughly covered and rigorously examined in a way which, for an academic book at least, is generally readable and relatively free of the jargon of much of modern academia.
And what of the overall perspective? Anthony Giddens, he of the much-maligned theories of the “third way”, says: “Every left of centre party that gets into power is doomed to disappoint – more so, probably, than governments of the right, since the left aspires more definitely to reshape society.”
Having read this book, it is hard to disagree, although many readers of Tribune will likely demur. Get out those smelling salts.’
Drawing upon the expertise of a team of established researchers, Ten Years of New Labour provides a detailed and comprehensive evaluation of the ideas, institutions and policies that shaped the Blair Governments’ decade in office. The reader is provided with a critical analysis of the key domestic policy choices, including New Labour’s agenda and legacy for economic and social policy, constitutional reform, including the impact upon Westminster and the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Labour Party’s relationship with the trades union. The impact of the Blair Governments’ policy choices overseas are explored through evaluations of defence policy, Tony Blair’s ‘liberal interventionism’ in international politics, and New Labour’s relationship with the European Union.
Preface; A.Giddens Introduction; M.Beech New Labour and the Politics of Dominance; M.Beech The British Model of Political Economy; S.Lee New Labour and Public Expenditure; M.Mullard & R.Swaray New Labour and Social Policy; S.Driver New Labour and the Rise of the New Constitutionalism; M.Evans Tony Blair and the Office of Prime Minister; P.Norton A Rebellious Decade; P.Cowley & M.Stuart New Labour and the Unions: The Death of Tigmoo?; E.Shaw New Labour and the European Union; J.Buller Blair’s Liberal Interventionism; R.Plant Blair’s Record on Defence: A Strategic Analysis; D.Lonsdale Conclusion; S.Lee
MATT BEECH is Lecturer in Politics and Director of the Centre for British Politics at the University of Hull, UK. He has written widely on New Labour and social democracy. His books include The Political Philosophy of New Labour, he is co-author of Labour’s Thinkers: The Intellectual Roots of Labour from Tawney to Gordon Brown and he is co-editor of The Struggle for Labour’s Soul. SIMON LEE is Senior Lecturer in Politics and a Director of the Centre for Democratic Governance at the University of Hull, UK. His previous books include Best for Britain: The Politics and Legacy of Gordon Brown (2007) and (co-edited with Stephen McBride), Neo-Liberalism, State Power and Global Governance (2007).