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Why don’t today’s Blair enthusiasts like talking about his actual policies?

Neo-Blairites get strangely embarrassed by New Labour’s PFI schemes, NHS privatisation and Atos welfare checks, observes SOLOMON HUGHES

ACCORDING to right-wing pundits, the Labour leadership “is finally learning to love Tony Blair again.” 

The promotion of centrist types like Wes Streeting to the shadow cabinet and Keir Starmer’s support for Blair getting knighted are the outward signs of a not-so-secret nouveau-Blairism flourishing at the top of Labour.

But these neo-Blairites don’t seem to take Blair on his own word. They rarely celebrate his actual policies, only his election wins.

So it’s useful to see some of Blair’s inner thoughts from his early days as prime minister, which were published recently by the National Archives. 

They include a strategy paper written by Blair in January 1998 to go to Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and the rest of his top team.

He says that his newly elected Labour government must make sure it is a thoroughly “New Labour” government. He describes this as founded on “New Labour values, in a centrist position, merging left/right perspectives.”

In his private memo, Blair goes quite a way further to embracing the right than he did in public at the time. 

He won the argument for Labour to become New Labour. But he did not openly describe his position as “merging left/right perspectives.”

In 1997 Blair did publicly say — for example in a speech to the City of London — that he wanted Labour to embrace a “third way,” rather than old Labour and Tory values, one that would “enhance the dynamism of the market.” 

He persuaded the Labour Party to vote for dropping nationalisation when they deleted the old, more directly socialist clause four. 

However, Blair still called himself as a “socialist,” even if he tried to redefine that as “social-ism.” He was generally described as “centre-left” not “centrist” and did not openly talk about “merging” with the right. The “third way” was sold as a new way, rather than a compromise with the Tories.

Blair’s internal memo goes on to define New Labour in his 1998 internal memo by saying: “It’s political genesis is a synthesis between the historical positions of left and right. 

“It is too simplistic to say it adopts ‘left’ values but is rightwards in how to achieve them. It is probably more accurate to say that it has left values but is open about how to achieve them and recognises that it was the right, not the left, that up to the end of the 80s was prepared to think more freely. 

“Privatisation of certain industries or the sale of council homes or greater autonomy for schools could have been left ideas.”

In the 1990s many Labour supporters accepted that Labour under Blair would not reverse Thatcherism, because that was too difficult. 

Labour critics argued that Blair was actually embracing Thatcherism and, at least in part, wanted to continue the job she had started. In private Blair lived up to what his critics on the left said.

The modern enthusiasts for Blair often don’t like to talk about what Blair actually believed in, or did, apart from winning elections. 

It is unlikely that even the most right-wing members of Labour’s shadow cabinet would talk about “merging left/right views” as Blair does in his 1998 internal memo.

The modern “Blairites” are not even that keen on defending Blair’s actual actions of government. 

His memo does talk about “social” issues — Blair wrote that New Labour “is not anti-wealth, but anti- poverty. It is ambition and compassion. Justice with progress.”  

But trying to meet these “social” aims by “market” methods took very specific forms — private finance initiatives (PFI) to build schools and hospitals, outsourcing more NHS operations to private health firms, hiring firms like Atos to run welfare. 

These were the signature approaches of New Labour, the ways “the market” was used for “social” ends. But the modern “Blair was good, honest” brigade get embarrassed by Labour’s PFI or NHS privatisation or Atos welfare checks or the growth of Serco, G4S and the like as a kind of privatised shadow state. 

They like to talk about the — very welcome — parts of the last Labour governments like the increased social spending or the minimum wage. 

But these were the social policies that Labour would have pursued under any Labour leader — they would have featured in a John Smith government. The modern “Blairites” are embarrassed by the truly Blairite policies.

Tony Blair and the ‘idiot’ approach

BLAIR is still with us. Some angry liberals are keen to follow his current advice to insult and annoy the unvaccinated into getting injected. In December Blair said: “Frankly, if you’re not vaccinated at the moment and you’re eligible and you’ve got no health reason for not being vaccinated, you’re not just irresponsible, I mean you’re an idiot.”

Should we call the unvaccinated “idiots”? Should we, as President Emmanuel Macron says, “emmerder” — usually translated as “piss off” — the unvaccinated?

In short, no. 

Blair and Macron are supposedly technocrats, but they are not listening to the experts here. Medical professionals have a long experience of dealing with vaccine hesitancy. 

Many people are nervous of vaccines because they have low trust in authority in general, and medical authority in particular. 

They are wrong on vaccines, but low trust is not irrational. If “authority” sometimes means being wrongly arrested, having your shifts at work and wages arbitrarily cut, often getting poor medical treatment, then you trust it less. 

Hence vaccine hesitancy is found more among marginalised groups — the younger, the poorer, ethnic minorities. We also have vaccine hesitancy among some young women because of early confusing advice on vaccine and pregnancy. 

The established way to beat vaccine hesitancy is patient campaigning and explanations run by “co-production” — meaning in close co-operation with people from marginalised groups, not insults. 

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change is trying to win work helping countries encourage vaccination, so its website has many articles entirely contradicting Tony Blair’s “idiot” approach, like one that says: “We must see society trusting medical professionals and governments sufficiently to accept vaccination. 

“To make that possible, we need greater transparency on data and consistent messaging on safety. The cause of mass vaccination is set back each time governments abruptly change regulations — as with the AstraZeneca vaccine — or issue confusing or contradictory advice, as in the initial case of face masks.”

On vaccines Blair should listen to his own institute before we listen to Blair.


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