Wednesday 24 February 2016

Tony Blair and Pragmatism

There isn't much point taking a swipe at Tony Blair these days, but that's not going to stop me from having another go. And so our Tone caused a brief ripple yesterday as his interview in The Graun confessed to being mystified by the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. He's not the only one. As either "can't win" and nothing is possible without holding office, why would anyone back them?

Far be it for me to contest the wisdom of the winner of three general elections (and one world cup), but his observation is a touch out. As we've seen, not least on this blog, there remains a big question mark over whether a Jez-led Labour Party could do the business. The prospects for Bernie Sanders, however, are a touch different. In January, Sanders was doing a better job than Hillary in outpolling Republican rivals. According to USA Today, he trails Trump less. Where's the pragmatism, Tony?

Nevertheless, we have seen some important advances in Tony Blair Thought. He notes "Part of it is the flatlining of lower and middle income people, the flatlining in living standards for those people, which is very frustrating. It’s partly an anger for sure at the elites, a desire to choose people who are going to rattle the cage." He's getting there. Social media also plays a role, too - though something tells me the down-at-heel turning to Trump in significant numbers have little to do with Twitter of Facebook updates. He also says the centre left have got some serious thinking to do to get back its "radical cutting edge."

Being conditions consciousness, so I can understand where Tony's coming from. Superficially, his personage was once an asset for the Labour Party. He was young and fresh, untainted by Tory sleaze and the naffness surrounding the party under Kinnock's tenure. Under his leadership, Labour was able to affect a certain dynamism because he was the change candidate. He might like to think his programme was radical, but it wasn't. Better, certainly, but market fundamentalism was not only taken for granted but expanded. Important rights at work around equality legislation and parental leave were important, but benefited workers as individuals when, in order to renew itself, Labour needed to extend collective rights. Yet, written out of his theology is the likelihood that John Smith, had he not died prematurely, would also have carried the party to victory in 1997 - and one that would have seen Labour return as the Tories collapsed into disarray.

What His Blairness has done is not approach elections pragmatically, but turned the experiences of the 1997 victory into a model valid for all time. It's commonsense that you must have a policy diet and a leader palatable to a plurality of an electorate, but Blair's "pragmatism" is ideological flimflam that ignores the political context of his victory and alibis his own safe, distinctly non-radical politics.


Gary Elsby said...

Not many people can read minds and we just don't know who will win the next election.
We do know why Labour lost though.
What your article-critique does not do is identify which four year period Tony got wrong?
Are you suggesting he was not that good for 13 years?
To qualify your point you would have to identify why the Tories didn't get a look in until they became at least as the same as Labour in 2010 and remained so in 2015.
I don't accept that the Labour Governments of 1997-2010 were not very ambitious.
The so-called 'collective responsibility' of the party let quite a few things go in a grab for power.
It worked.
Given a choice: Tony or Dave? Gordon or George?

asquith said...

You want to get yourself a subscription to The American Conservative, especially Daniel Larison's oeuvre, views aren't necessarily mine but they understand well enough that the Donald has done what nationalists always do, fill a space vacated by "mainstream" conservatives, fresh from illegally invading Iraq, causing the global economic meltdown and failure to respond to crisis after crisis starting with Katrina. You can't say that Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio are going to inspire anyone for the new era, and I naturally think the Donald's ideas aren't properly thought through and won't work but you can see why millions are issuing a cry for help.

The left will always disappoint their supporters, and Clinton and Clinton are no different. Sanders is right about the illegal wars, not just in Iraq but also Libya, Syria and the half-witted threats against Iran. Obama has been marginally better than Dumbya but you can forgive a Sanders supporter for saying it's not enough. The Democrat establishment need to ask themselves why they've lost so much support, partly because of the hysterical (Ted Cruz-orchestrated) "opposition" but partly because of their own free-trading internationalism, which I think has brought benefits but which hasn't been widely felt among the working class.

No one has ever followed a rational, liberal policy in which aid is linked to foreign policy and foreign policy is linked to aid, free trade and peace, an end to the illegal wars, free trade in a liberal order that repudiates the sort of crony capitalism that the Donald's supporters rightly abhor (yes, I know he's part of the problem but it definitely is a problem and both parties have failed to acknowledge this). The sanctions on Cuba, Iran etc haven't worked and I applaud Obama removing them. We in the west need to show that the liberal order is better than nationalism, protectionism and illiberal socialism and state capitalism that prevails elsewhere, and we can only do this if we remain true to ourselves.

I am happy enough supporting #hillary2016 with a strong Bernie presence to force debate on the issues, but ultimately his socialism and opposition to free trade, and the fact that he wouldn't be able to do much of anything given the ineviatbel opposition he'd attract, put me in the Hillary camp.

Richard said...

The problem for the average left wing voter on both sides of the Atlantic is that they're being forced to choose between candidates who won't be able to change anything and candidate who won't even try. It's worse in the UK because the 'moderate' left are scarcely more electable than Jeremy Corbyn, for all the boasting.

Faced with those choices its hardly surprising voters would choose Sanders and Corbyn. If you're going to lose either way, it's better to support the candidate whose views you actually agree with.

Gary Elsby said...

Maybe the big test to your theory Richard is Trident.
A Trident loving Labour MP supporting renewal will surely be deselected in anti Trident Constituencies at the nearest possible juncture.

In the run in to 2020, we may have candidates who actually believe in a manifesto that we believe in also rather than half-hearted socialism designed to appease both Tories and Labour malcontents.

This is why I support Jeremy as much as I can.
I believe that he believes and that is as good as it gets. Sure, there are some aspects that truly don't believe (in) and I will not support them but on the whole, I get the big idea.

This is Tony's dilemma. He just doesn't get 'it' and he can't see why I get it.
But I do.

asquith said...

The Donald's support isn't coming from warmongering neocons, "libertarians" or evangelical nutters, it's often coming from erstwhile Democrats.

The likes of Ted Cruz, who are intelligent enough to know beter but too cynical to care, have stoked the culture wars and they've got what they thought they wanted.

The good thing the Donald is doing is to finish off his disgustingly cynical and irresponsible party. But even if he is less obnoxious than them, it's only because they are so rancid, rather than because he i good. He will hav to do without my support.

I am cheered by thesuccess of the #hillary20016 campaign, it is what we're after.