The Use and Abuse of "Blairism": The Word Is Insulting, Lazy and Misleading, Writes Charles Clarke, Calling for an End to "Deceitful Nonsense" and "Just William" Politics

By Clarke, Charles | New Statesman (1996), September 8, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Use and Abuse of "Blairism": The Word Is Insulting, Lazy and Misleading, Writes Charles Clarke, Calling for an End to "Deceitful Nonsense" and "Just William" Politics


Clarke, Charles, New Statesman (1996)


As various commentators consider Labour's prospects, the term "Blairite" is being deployed to characterise the policies and personalities of some who question the party's current direction and urge Labour to face the future. Like "That-cherite", the word is not used kindly. "Blairite" (even "uber-Blairite") is a lazy and inaccurate shorthand. It is intended not to illuminate but to diminish, marginalise and insult. It was, for example, the stock phrase used by the Brown political briefing team to traduce David Miliband's Guardian article in early August.

Moreover, this misleading language damages the vital need for Labour to move on to new, post-Blair ground. Those journalists and politicians who use it are fighting the last political struggle, the War of the Tony Blair Succession, in a way that owes rather more to Just William and the Hubert Laneites than to the challenges of modern British politics.

In the newspapers this summer, I have read about "eye-wateringly 'Blairite' gospels"; about "Blairites" "thumbing their noses" at progressive politics; about "Blair privatisers" and how "Blairites" are the "business wing" who "play the markets against the 'progressive wing' of the party". Some argue David Cameron is now more progressive than new Labour and that Labour under Blair became a party of the centre right.

This deceitful nonsense has to end. Everyone in Labour needs to stop obsessing about the past and to start obsessing about the future.

Central achievement

We should recognise that Tony Blair was an outstanding Labour prime minister who has now departed the British political scene and has no future part to play. His legacy, on the basis of what we inherited in 1997, is historically important, but it does not define the way forward from 2008 onwards. It is worth summarising his approach to government.

In international affairs, Blair stood for a liberal interventionist strategy in our increasingly interdependent world. This attracted fierce criticism in relation to Iraq, but general support on the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. It led him to work with the power of the United States rather than join the anti-American claque, even when George W Bush demonstrated crippling incompetence or opposed British policy. And in the European Union, Blair's good intentions turned to dust, so that Britain is now more remote from the centre of European power than ever.

Liberal interventionism must be underpinned by military force, but its moral authority was undermined by the glacial progress in preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the ill-considered determination to renew Trident. The rise of terrorist atrocities, including London in 2005, identified Tony Blair with tough efforts to strengthen security, sometimes at a perceived cost to liberty. In some circles, this damaged his reputation, despite the series of progressive constitutional reforms that modernised Britain. As for the economy, the achievement of the Blair-Brown leadership was to demonstrate, for the first time ever, that Labour could run the economy well and promote general prosperity.

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The Use and Abuse of "Blairism": The Word Is Insulting, Lazy and Misleading, Writes Charles Clarke, Calling for an End to "Deceitful Nonsense" and "Just William" Politics
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