Why is Tony Blair letting Cameron use him for advantage?


11:28 am - June 20th 2011

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contribution by Steven Fielding

The Independent’s Steve Richards has highlighted the existence of an ‘informal alliance’ between David Cameron and Tony Blair.

Richards suggests this ‘alliance’ is based on a policy agenda embraced by many of those who worked closest with Blair in government as well as some of Cameron’ s most trusted Cabinet colleagues.

This will not come as news to those academics and Labour members who have always claimed that Blair was a Thatcherite.

Nor will it surprise Conservative horrified by Cameron’ s 2005 claim that he was the “heir to Blair”.

Indeed, such has been the extent of the apparent morphing of Thatcherism into Blairism that we have recently had the bizarre sight of former Labour Health Secretary Alan Milburn attacking Cameron for not being radical enough in his desire to ‘ reform’ the NHS.

That there is considerable policy overlap between these two groups is not novel – there usually is between Prime Ministers and Front Benchers, who often find themselves at one against their own party members and backbench MPs.

But whatever their critics might believe, there is not a perfect ideological fit between Blairites and Cameroons. So while some kind of tacit ‘alliance’ undoubtedly exists its most significant and original aspect lies not in policy but in what it says about Britain’ s evolving political culture.

It is obvious why Cameron in opposition tried to appropriate the outgoing Labour Prime Minister: he hoped it would detoxify his party’ s image and undermine Gordon Brown. As Cameron failed to win a majority in 2010 Blair consequently remains useful and it is striking that the coalition government quickly brought Blairites Milburn and John Hutton on board in advisory capacities.

As Steve Richards points out, being able to cite Blair and other ex-ministers against Ed Miliband is also a great way for Cameron to destabilize the Labour leader, caught as he is between wanting to move on from New Labour but knowing that for electoral reasons he has to retain much of what it stood for.

Yet, Cameron is only doing what Blair (and Brown) did when in office as both invited Margaret Thatcher round for a cup of tea and a chat. A glutton for punishment, Brown did this twice, claiming how much he ‘ admired’ her. Whatever their real feelings for Thatcher and any misgivings they had about some of her policies, Blair and Brown knew how useful she was in helping them reach a certain kind of voter – and undermining the Conservative leadership.

Blair therefore must be aware of how Cameron is using him for electoral advantage – just as Thatcher would have been.

Perhaps Blair does not care – as Thatcher clearly did not. Both ex-premiers share a similar resentment about being dumped by their own parties when they felt they had years left in them and were each succeeded by leaders who criticized some of their key policies and sought to take their parties in ostensibly different directions.

Yet, all Prime Ministers have egos and I don’ t know of any other post-war former resident of Number 10 being used in this way. Whatever they thought of their successors, most kept their own counsel.

Thatcher and even more so Blair operate in a changed political culture, one in which the power of the leader has massively increased while that of party has seriously declined.

The media’s ever-insistent personalisation of politics means that party leaders overshadow their parties – for good or ill – within the public’s imagination. This process only reinforces the wider decline ofpartisanship amongst the electorate such that loyalty to any of the major parties is now something only a small minority feel.

This increases the incentive for a party to appropriate a former Prime Minister.

That such figures now appear more inclined to be appropriated by their former opponents speaks to the lack of importance of party to their own political identities compared to an empathy with other members of what is becoming an increasingly distant and self-enclosed Westminster governing elite.

—-
Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History, Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Nottingham

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And the very next day after that Steve Richards article, this

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jun/17/tony-blair-tory-public-service-changes

Things like ‘He also denies he has endorsed the Conservative deficit plan and points to the plan of the Labour chancellor Alistair Darling to halve the deficit over four years.’ doesn’t suggest that he doesn’t care, even if all he cares about is his reputation and not the actual policies.

I think he has a fair point – separate from their rightness or otherwise – that where changes mimic the ones he pushed through it wouldn’t be believable for him to completely oppose them. In fact, that shows that one reason ex-prime ministers, and ex-ministers, can seem co-opted is because they are freed from the rhetoric of opposition (and, incidentally, where they do disagree in more nuanced ways they don’t get much coverage). They don’t have to ratchet up the attacks. It’s not their job any more. It’s unfortunate that their ‘supporters’ don’t seem to get that.

This also begs the question, what’s in it for the Blairites? As Mrs Merton Might have asked, what does the former health minister Alan Milburn see in a money-making privatised health industry? (European Advisory Committee at Bridgepoint, a private equity group, notwithstanding.)

Blair’s support of Cameron torpedoes Labour anti-cuts fight:
http://madammiaow.blogspot.com/2011/06/blairs-support-of-cameron-torpedoes.html

3. Daz Pearce

Does anybody really see Cameronism is anything other than a continutation of Blairism? The party labels now are meaning increasigly little as the charge towards the focus group dominates political thinking.

How many real radical Thatcherites are there in the Tory Party?

How many genuine socialists occupy the Labour benches?

All very sad…

http://outspokenrabbit.blogspot.com/

All Blair ever wanted was to be rich and famous, especially famous. Failed as a rock star and mediocre barrister so he became a politcian, the one profession where even a slight amount of talent is not necessary. He is unable to step out of the limelight and clings to the ghost of power with a desperation that’s both comic and pathetic so he’s happy to be associated with anyone that’ll get him mentioned in the papers. Just look at some of the evil bastards he was happy to consort with when he was in office and you can’t be too surprised if he’ll appear to be connected with Cameron in his desperation to appear a great statesman who transcends mere party politics.

If Miliband isn’t a gutless wimp this could work in his favour, allowing him to repudiate the excesses and failings of Blair, lumping yesterday’s man together with Cameron and allowing Labour to have a fresh start. Too many Blairites still on the gravy train for that to happen

As suggested before, to move on Labour needs to apologise for having elected Blair as its Leader.

Anyone who doubts that needs to reflect on the 22-page letter that Blair wrote to Michael Foot in 1982:

“In the 22-page letter, the 29-year-old Mr Blair tells then Labour leader Michael Foot how reading Marx had ‘irreversibly altered’ his outlook. He also praises Tony Benn, agreeing with the left-winger’s analysis that Labour’s right-wing was bankrupt.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/5081798.stm

This was not the letter of some politically immature, frenetic teen, but that of a 29 year-old Oxford law graduate.

The author of that letter is not someone to be taken seriously.

Remember this passage in a keynote speech to the economic club in Chicago on April 1999?

“If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation then we have to support the UN as its central pillar.”
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/international/jan-june99/blair_doctrine4-23.html

“Yet, all Prime Ministers have egos and I don’ t know of any other post-war former resident of Number 10 being used in this way. Whatever they thought of their successors, most kept their own counsel.”

Surely the key point here is which other post-war leader would have been relevant or desirable or alive long enough for a successor from another party to invoke in a useful way?

7. polittiscribe

On the basis of your argument we should expect Gordon Brown to support and be welcomed by the Coalition? I don’t think so. This is about the politics of the centre ground, not personalities. Blair and the Liberal Conservative Coalition have a great deal in common – welfare reform, educational reform, NHS reform, pension reform and deficit reduction. They’ll disagree on many of the ways in getting there, and no doubt the positioning of a final destination, but, like Field, Hutton and Milburn, they are engaged and debating constructively the most important issues of the day. And then there’s Balls & Miliband – floating incoherently and seemingly unable to engage in any of the important questions of our time because of what looks like tribal hatred…

“And then there’s Balls & Miliband – floating incoherently and seemingly unable to engage in any of the important questions of our time because of what looks like tribal hatred…”

That’s an instructive example of reversion to the usual infantile, tribal politics.

The logical possibilities are

- the Coalition government is on the “correct” course for which there is “no alternative” while Labour with Ed Miliband as leader is up the creek

- the Coalition government is set on an unnecessarily harsh course of public spending cuts which puts economic stability at risk as well as hurting the most vulnerable while Labour is a voice calling for sanity.

- both the Coalition government and the Labour opposition are deeply flawed and incompetent.

Cost-benefit analysis will show that the earlier death of a pensioner will help the government to rein in the budget deficit from savings in state pension payments and lower costs to the NHS for healthcare.

You know it makes sense. A modest early outlay on a network of local Harold Shipman Centres will pay swift returns through savings in government expenditures.

He’s doing nothing more than standing by the policies of the Government he led. Nothing remotely surprising in that. It’s the ex-colleagues trying to pretend it had nothing to do with them that look shifty.

@4: “If Miliband isn’t a gutless wimp…”

I think I can see a problem here.

“He’s doing nothing more than standing by the policies of the Government he led. ”

Blair crafted and moulded the policies of the Government he led.

Some of us weren’t taken in.

With Blair’s leadership, New Labour lost 4 million votes between the elections of 1997 and 2005 – and at least half the party membership.

12. Mr S. Pill

You can draw a straight line from Thatcher to Major to Blair to Cameron.

Anyone who still thinks Blair (as opposed to other parts of the Labour Party) is or was remotely left-wing is an idiot or a liar.

“You can draw a straight line from Thatcher to Major to Blair to Cameron. ”

Try the excellent book by Simon Jenkins: Thatcher and Sons (Penguin 2006), especially for the extensive citations to supporting documentation.

“As suggested before, to move on Labour needs to apologise for having elected Blair as its Leader.”

Does the public not also have to apologise for electing hm?

@12 … or so far right that they also think Cameron is left-wing. Simon Heffer springs to mind.

“Blair crafted and moulded the policies of the Government he led.”

So why the shock that he thinks they were right? Flashman’s attempted impersonation doesn’t make him a tory.

17. Mr S. Pill

@15

Good point!

@16: “So why the shock that he thinks they were right? Flashman’s attempted impersonation doesn’t make him a tory.”

It wasn’t a shock to me – but then I was aware that Labour with Blair’s leadership had lost 4 million votes between the 1997 and 2005 elections and at least half the party membership.

IMO it’s also no accident that turnout at the last three general elections has been low by historic standards:
http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm

In the last Parliament, more than half of MPs have been found guilty of over-claiming on their parliamentary expenses.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/7161198/More-than-half-of-MPs-guilty-of-over-claiming-expenses.html

Blair is a lawyer – surely he must have been sufficiently competent to appreciate that the rule book on Parliamentary expenses, drawn up by cross-party Commission under the chairmanship of Speaker Martin, was vague and full of loop holes?

19. Julian St Jude

Thatcherism and Blairism are opposite cheeks of the same Blatcherite harris.

Over the last 3 decades, Britain has ceased to be a Democracy and become a Shamocracy. The Tories and new Labour offer millions of voters a choice like that of being bitten by a King Cobra or a Black Mamba. The Liberal Democrats offer an unhappy medium between the other two choices.

Neither party govern in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom. Both parties encourage certain parts of the UK, such as “Middle England” to regard themselves as a cut above the rest of the UK.

Thatcher the woman may be long gone from Downing Street but Thatcher the ism is still very much in Downing Street, and has been throughout the last 32 years, despite changes of government.

We are indeed living in the times prophesied by the Rosicrucian Poet William Buster Yates: “The worst are full of fury, and the best lack all conviction.”

20. blackwillow1

Blair was a cuckoo in the nest, masquerading as, ‘New Labour’ but in reality, he wanted the party to become some mutated hybrid, taking a strong line on law and order, giving tax credits to the masses, as a pay-off for not complaining too loudly about the rightward direction he was leading them in. Cameron saw the results and knew that Blair had found the perfect formula, not for good government, but for political survival. You make a promise, any promise, you tell a lie, any lie and then you either keep the promise, if it pays you to do so, or break it if keeping it will cause you additional problems. Blair was a damned good liar, a lying bastard certainly, but a very skilled lying bastard. Cameron on the other hand, not so good. He lacks the gift that Blair had, for pissing on your leg and telling you it’s raining. Before you realised it was actually dry and fine, he was on his toes with the contents of your wallet. A conman, showman, despicable man. But very good at it. Cameron takes a different approach, relying on the old tory arrogance and saying “I’m in charge so what can you actually do about it?” Yes, Cameron and Blair are very similar politicians, right wing but trying to present themselves as ‘soft right’, but Blair was quite the performer, remember the “peoples princess” speech? Call me Dave, with his “I’m just a normal bloke” routine, does’nt have any ability as a performer, ca’nt hide his inborn contempt for those he considers beneath him and is, quite simply, a really shit liar. We need to tell him, through the ballot box, to fuck off and never bother us again, you spineless, two-faced, double dealing, inbred piece of shit. On the ballot slip that would be abbreviated to conservative, we need to leave space for the other lot, the spineless, two-faced, double dealing, power hungry, unprincipled piece of shit. AKA Clegg and the Lib-Dems. General Election 2012!!!

Blair is the puppet of the global elites. He in the Labour party, Clegg in the Lie Dems, and people like Joe Lieberman in the US Democratic party, are making sure that the left of centre parties have signed up to the global elite agenda of tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for the poor, and the privatisation of the welfare state.

Oil wars continue, this time Libya, but the motives are still the same. The parties change places but the global elite agenda keeps on sailing serenely on.

22. Flobadobadob

@ 5.

Yep… however, before dismissing him too quickly let us remember that Blair was voted into office 3 times and is the longest serving Labour Prime Minister.

Michael Foot however got trounced when he stood against Thatcher.

What lessons should this teach us about the British electorate and how they see the left?

23. Flobadobadob

@ 20

Blair was a cuckoo in the nest, masquerading as, ‘New Labour’ but in reality, he wanted the party to become some mutated hybrid, taking a strong line on law and order, giving tax credits to the masses, as a pay-off for not complaining too loudly about the rightward direction he was leading them in.

He even used the term “The Third Way”. A term instantly recognised by anyone who has studied the politics of the 1920′s and 1930′s – it was the term used by the Fascists and National Socialists to describe their own policies. I nearly fell over when I first heard him use the term to describe New Labour. Funny how many commited lefties continued to vote for him though, even though he kept shoving their faces in the shit. Maybe it’s ignorance of political history, maybe masochism – you decide.

“Yep… however, before dismissing him too quickly let us remember that Blair was voted into office 3 times and is the longest serving Labour Prime Minister.”

That’s why they dismiss him. Some people find opposition far more comfortable.

“That’s why they dismiss him”

No, that’s not so Try this from the Guardian:

Honderich is also a consequentialist, which partly explains his hatred towards Tony Blair. “He is always asking to be judged by the morality of his intentions,” he spits. “He doesn’t understand that no one cares about his fucking morality. We judge him by the consequences of his actions. In any case, his morality is so muddy and ill-considered. I’m increasingly coming to the opinion that Blair’s main problem is that he’s not very bright.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2005/mar/22/academicexperts.highereducationprofile

Before he retired, Honderich was Grote professor of philosophy at UCL. He wasn’t the only one to conclude that Blair was rather dim as a political leader. Roy Jenkins, who was Blair’s mention for a time, came to a similar conclusion. So did Simon Jenkins.

Blair may have won three elections but the Conservatives had a succession of leaders who lacked electoral appeal for obvious reasons – Major, William Hague, and then Michael Howard who took over from Ian Duncan Smith before getting to Cameron, who wasn’t able to win an overall majority in the 2010 general election.

With Blair’s leadership, Labour lost 4 million votes between the elections of 1997 and 2005. It’s a cultivated myth that Blair was a great leader – and he left a toxic legacy which it will likely take Labour a generation to recover from.

There is indeed a completely shared policy ethos between Blairism (which is alive and well in some parts of the Labour Party) and this coalition government.
In terms of it being ‘Britain’s evolving political culture’ it is more rightly the culture that has evolved among Britain’s political elite’s in bed with the corporate market, which is a different thing altogether. There is enough opposition to attempts at back-door privatising the NHS etc., to conclude that the neo-liberal goings-on in Westminster are not part of the political culture desired by large swathes of the population.

Along with Milburn, a sadder case of another Blairite hanger-on I’m tired of hearing squawk is Frank Field.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Gemma Handford

    Why is Tony Blair letting Cameron use him for advantage? http://bit.ly/lXQzcY

  2. Gael

    RT @libcon: Why is #TonyBlair letting Cameron use him for advantage? http://bit.ly/lXQzcY

  3. Justin McKeating

    Why is Tony Blair letting Cameron use him for advantage? http://t.co/p4PeKHZ < swap Cameron for Clinton, Bush, Murdoch, rinse and repeat.

  4. isla dowds

    RT @libcon: Why is Tony Blair letting Cameron use him for advantage? http://bit.ly/lXQzcY < He's closer to them than to #labour values….

  5. Edward Clarke

    Why is Tony Blair letting Cameron use him for advantage? http://bit.ly/lXQzcY

  6. Gavin Duley

    Why is Tony Blair letting Cameron use him for advantage? — http://t.co/oDu1Kyz via @libcon

  7. Celtic crusader

    Why is Tony Blair letting Cameron use him for advantage? http://bit.ly/lXQzcY

  8. Jane Phillips

    Why is Tony Blair letting Cameron use him for advantage? http://t.co/p4PeKHZ < swap Cameron for Clinton, Bush, Murdoch, rinse and repeat.

  9. Jonathan Watson

    Cameron's Blair-worship & TB/GB Thatcher-worship show 'increasingly distant and self-enclosed' nature of pol elite http://bit.ly/kOkSTJ

  10. MustBeRead

    From @NottsProfSteve: Why is Tony Blair letting Cameron use him for advantage? http://t.co/MnISLPN

  11. J P

    RT @BrokenOfBritain: Why is Tony Blair letting Cameron use him for advantage? | Liberal Conspiracy http://fb.me/v62iU4jp&lt; cos he's a cunt

  12. Why is Tony Blair letting Cameron use him for advantage? « Steven Fielding

    [...] some talking of an 'informal alliance' between David Cameron and Tony Blair I wrote this post for Liberal Conspiracy where I asked what was in such an 'alliance' for Blair and [...]





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