Cheshire Cat, Cheddar Man: Bland Tony Blair May Have the Most Radical Agenda in British History: The End of Britain

Article excerpt

"All right," said the [Cheshire] Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.

--"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

London--about Prime Minister Tony Blair, architect of "New Labour" and apostle of the "Third Way" (American-style capitalism blended with European statism), the question is, what is there besides his grin? The Third Way is thin gruel, its mantra of "modernization" as watery as Bill Clinton's 1992 celebration of "change." Blair's government, preoccupied with the politics of presentation, has a remarkably high ratio of rhetoric to real programs. However, it is advancing, or allowing to advance, the most radical agenda in the nation's history. How else to describe the dissolution of the nation, and the submersion of its component parts in the gray leviathan called "Europe"?

Blairism is the radicalism of purposeful inertness. It is part cause and part effect of both centrifugal and centripetal forces. After not quite three centuries as a unified entity, bits of Britain, a composite nation, are spinning outward ("devolution," via legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). But all are being tugged toward a new center, Brussels, the cold bureaucratic heart of "Europe," as that becomes a political as well as a geographic category.

Blair's political profile is not just blurry at the edges, it is blur straight through. Blairism consists of embracing conservatism but calling it something else--deploring Thatcherism while preserving its consequences, such as deregulation, privatization and democratization of the trade unions. Blair's most specific campaign promise, to reform, and particularly to end the waiting lists in, the sclerotic National Health Service (with three quarters of a million employees, one of Europe's largest employers), remains spectacularly unfulfilled. Although in 1997 Labour gave the Tories their worst shellacking of the 20th century, winning a 179-seat majority, a recent poll put the Tories just three points behind.

The politics of pure presentation ("spin" and "focus groups" are recent American imports into Britain's political lexicon) works only until it is recognized as such. But there is a brain behind Blairism. It belongs to Gordon Brown, chancellor of the Exchequer. He is a Scot (that matters) who approvingly quotes Alan Greenspan. Even when throwing red meat to "Old Labour" class warriors (he lambasted Oxford for being a haven of private-school toffs when it turned down a state-school graduate who was accepted at Harvard), he does so in a Thatcherite vocabulary stressing the meritocracy and efficiency necessary for an entrepreneurial society.

Brown is making sure that the most important issue in British politics does not come to a boil before the next election, which must occur no later than 2002 and will probably be next year. The issue is whether to scrap the national currency and join the euro currency, with all that implies for surrendering control of monetary policy, and then (inevitably) fiscal policy, and sliding ever deeper into "harmonization" with (meaning subordination to) the emerging European superstate. …