Dead Men Left

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Revenge of the spurned wonk

They may look harmless, but these people have literary teeth. David Clark, former special advisor to Foreign Office, puts the boot in:

To his critics on the left, Blair is a market fundamentalist with a coherent, if only partially declared, agenda to privatise as much of our lives as possible: a neoliberal cuckoo in the social democratic nest. The Blairite counter argument states the opposite. He is the ultimate Fabian gradualist, busily transforming Britain in a thousand ways so subtle as to be invisible to the human eye. One day we will all wake up in the New Jerusalem and wonder how we got there.

Though "Tony=Tory" is an equation sometimes still drawn, I'm not sure how many on the left would be prepared to make it now. New Labour (as Clark's "Blairite counter argument" says) believes in itself, or at least it did until it ran into the sand of Iraq. Blair and his coeterie genuinely see themselves as part of gradualist Fabian tradition. This effects what he says, what he does, and the constituency he appeals to.

There is no incompatability between saying this, and also saying Blair is fundamentally not a Labour Party man. Many of the early Fabians were staunch supporters of the Liberal Party, and Blair is on the record as bemoaning the fact that "progressives" in Britain ever split into Liberal and Labour factions. It is the complete absence of any sense of class is what mark Blair and New Labour as distinct from earlier Labour Party reformists.

Little of the period of Blair's leadership makes sense if we assume he is simply a covert Tory. How else do you explain the minimum wage? The Family Credit? The New Deal? How else to explain the great landslide of 1997? A covert Tory would not have ridden the great leftwards shift that drove the actual Tories out of office with such aplomb. Ideological considerations, given most explicit form in the late, unlamented "Third Way", have marked Blairism from the off. That the Third Way and its derivations were weak and feeble implements, and that large parts of the so-called Blair Project were filled with mumbo-jumbo and hot air does not change the analysis. It's an inadequate, miserly ideology, but in the absence of immediate challenges, with the alternative ruling party in disarray and alternative political poles of attraction still reeling after Thatcher, Blair-thought could hold sway.

It is only since entering the dangerous adventure of Iraq that the Blair Project has lost its sense of strategy and its vision; and it is hard to believe anything but a directly ideologically motivated Prime Minister would have launched the invasion, given countervailing domestic political pressures, clear divisions in the British ruling class and yawning great divide between the US and the EU.

When Clark writes, then, that Blair is simply pragmatic, following the line of least resistance, he misses an important part of what makes New Labour tick:

The political consequences of this defensive mindset are profound. Just as surely as you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, you can't build a fairer society without challenging wealth and power. That is something Blair is psychologically incapable of. In the battle against what George Orwell once colourfully described as "the lords of property and their hired liars and bumsuckers", Blair will always be with the liars and bumsuckers - not because he agrees with them, but because he is mesmerised by their power.

On the contrary, Blair and New Labour believe in being liars and bumsuckers.

Final word from Clark:

Labour supporters are tired of being taken for granted, and increasingly coming to the conclusion that the ballot box is the only place where they have the power to make themselves count. This is why many of them, against their deepest political instincts, will wake up on May 5 with the solemn intention of hurting Tony Blair. It's the only language he understands.