18 January 2011

Tony Blair - a truly bizarre role model

Is it just me who thinks that Dave Cameron arguing that he is the heir to Tony Blair is a poor choice of tactics?

In terms of the ideological content - destroying the NHS state education and local government services through break-up and sell-off to private contractors - I'd agree that there is very little here that ultra-Blairites could disagree with. And that's because Blair (at least, post-2001) was just a Tory under another name anyway.

However, Cameron seems to be forgetting that the arrogance, sleaze and hubris of Blair - not just the Iraq war but his whole governing project - turned voters off big-time from 2003 or thereabouts onwards. In Blair's last election victory in 2005 Labour secured only 35% of the vote - about the same as the Tories in 2010. People criticise Gordon Brown for leading Labour into the sub-30% disaster zone, and it's true that Labour only got 29% in 2010. But more than half of the decline in the Labour vote share since 1997 took place under Blair, not Brown.

So why would Cameron choose as his inspiration a figure who is such obviously damaged goods, with an ideology to match? I think the reason has to do with the recent electoral history of the Conservative party. Just as Margaret Thatcher, Labour's 1980s electoral nemesis, had a huge influence on the birth New Labour in the 1990s, so Tony Blair had a huge influence on the birth of the Cameronite New Tory party. Tories of the Cameron/Osborne/Gove generation appear to have considered Blair as some kind of electoral genius, to be emulated at the first opportunity. No matter that his recent autobiography A Journey reveals him to be a delusional neo-con maniac; maybe that's just the kind of role model Dave Cameron is comfortable with.

In 2001, or even 2005, this pitch might have made a lot of electoral sense for the Tories. But now it just looks severely old hat - 2005's politics in 2010. And by 2015 it will look prehistoric. So I do think the Tories are making a major misjudgement here in terms of tactics. I'd also add that the whole reform strategy on public services is likely to be a disaster as it combines very radical structural change with a complete lack of resources to accomplish any transformation; but then, you knew that anyway. I think they must be banking on Ed Miliband to be so crap that he won't be able to formulate a convincing alternative at the next election. Which is possible, but (I would argue) very unlikely. Of course, how much Labour can salvage from the train-wreck of public services in 2015 (if that is when the next election is held) is impossible to say at present.


Van Patten said...

It was good to see a number of boroughs whose contracted in services failed to clear the rubbish for 4 weeks. Would you say such a level of service is actually worth preserving?

Van Patten said...

Also got your comment re the posts on the 11 point plan for Miliband - apologies as I did go on but was deeply concerned to see you describe people that would recommend Cuba as an economic model as 'fine people'!