Magazine article The Spectator

Proper Tories Will Have Reason to Mourn the Departure of Tony Blair

Magazine article The Spectator

Proper Tories Will Have Reason to Mourn the Departure of Tony Blair

Article excerpt

We shall miss him when he is gone. It has become the fashion, both at Westminster and in what used to be known as Fleet Street, to assume that Tony Blair has entered the twilight of his premiership. One of the most promising of the younger Labour back-benchers, who would like a job in government but has failed to show the unremitting servility which would have enabled him to obtain one, remarked this week that 'not having been promoted towards the end of the discredited Blair regime' could well prove, in careerist terms, a blessing in disguise. Meanwhile the most high-minded of the Guardian's columnists had already detected, in Mr Blair, 'a tipping point from leader-as-navigator to leader-as-man-of-self-pleasuring-hubris'. The phrase conjured up a picture of Hugo Young patrolling the dormitories at night with a flashlight, determined to detect any boy who might be giving way to self-pleasuring hubris, and finding to his horror that Blair of all people - Blair who used to set an example to the whole school - had succumbed to this revolting vice.

But it was also a phrase which illustrates the extraordinary condescension with which the Left regards Mr Blair. A great part of the Labour party actually hates him. This feeling goes far beyond the normal, healthy desire of the free-born Englishman to bring a successful man down a peg or two. There is a widespread belief that Mr Blair is an alien interloper who has betrayed the party and is every bit as bad as Margaret Thatcher, whose legacy he preserved. Hence the collapse in Labour membership, and the capture by the extreme Left of one trade union after another.

As a Tory, who wanted Mrs Thatcher's legacy to be preserved, one is forced to congratulate Mr Blair on his tight control of his own party. It may all end in tears; he will perhaps leave Labour as exhausted and divided as she left the Conservative party, and with as small and elderly a membership. But to achieve as much as he has while leading such a shower is a remarkable achievement. Since last August, when I moved to Gospel Oak just south of Hampstead Heath, I have gained a closer acquaintance with Labour's middle-class supporters than I have ever had before. Many of them are delightful people public-spirited, devoted to high culture and pleasantly aware that the point of life is not to grind the faces of the poor or to accumulate riches beyond the dreams of avarice.

But great was their fury when a friend of mine, Don Guttenplan, published an article in the Guardian in which he explained why, despite being a convinced socialist, he is going to remove his daughter from one of the local state primary schools and send her to a private school. My opinion was that Guttenplan was wrong to be opposed in principle to private education, so had no need to suffer agonies of conscience when he decided to make use of it. But this was not the reaction of the terrifyingly energetic women who wanted to tear Guttenplan limb from limb. To these old-style socialists he was a traitor to the cause of state education, in which they believe with a passion, while also worrying desperately whether it is good enough for their own dear children.

Guttenplan is an American, and though he is a very good writer, there was a certain innocent tactlessness in the way he exposed the dilemma that faces socialists like him who believe in equality but also in high culture. …

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