If I were Tory leader and other matters

Goldsmith, the Greens, Miss World, Water Wars plus if one was given the opportunity to rule...

What do you think of Miss World? Is it a bit of a joke? A relic from the sexist past? Or something that enforces a negative stereotype of women? With contestants due to don their bikinis in China this weekend we asked Bea Campbell and Ruth Lea to debate Miss World. Have a read and then why not add your thoughts?

This week we've also had an article on British citizenship. Lord Goldsmith has been asked by Gordon Brown to conduct a review of the issue which will report next March. Writing exclusively for newstatesman.com the ex-attorney general argued diversity needs to combine with a shared sense of belonging.

The Green Party's Caroline Lucas meanwhile hailed a UN report and issued a warning that when it comes to climate change we've got just 10 years.

Professor Liz Kelly revealed some horrific truths about the postcode lottery women face when they seek support in the wake of rape or domestic violence.

Have a look at her article to find the link to the Map of the Gaps.

And Fred Pearce, in association with the World Development Movement (WDM), provided us with a fascinating article on the danger posed to humanity by Water Wars.

Incidentally, look out next week as we work with the WDM to bring you coverage of the Bali conference.

And don't forget Martin Bright's blog for regular updates about the Labour donor crisis

Now turning to other matters...

The other day my wife woke and told me she'd dreamt I'd just been elected Tory leader and, I can't lie, it got me thinking...

Like my predecessors, I would take election as a given - the Conservatives are, after all, the natural party of government and it is a right, not a privilege, to serve.

I'd re-open all the mines just to shut them down again, destroying whole communities then abandoning them to their fate. There's nothing like a little adversity to bring out the spirit of the Blitz.

The nation could indulge in an expensive but unnecessary round of arms buying bolstering our existing reputation as a great country: Falklands + Gibraltar = an empire, as I always say.

Incentives would be put back into some workplaces - I'm particularly thinking of the Square Mile - including the legalisation of tax evasion for those earning more than £120,000 a year - they work hard, so why should the state steal from them?

I'd ban Ken Livingstone, again.

When things begin to pear-shaped with the economy, as they surely will, I'd embark on a round of tax cuts the country can ill afford.

Obviously interest rates would be ratchetted up to 15% in a bid to tackle the aforementioned the effects of my reckless tax cuts and to punish people who have bought property with a mortgage rather than inherited it. Here there would be the additional benefit of rewarding savers or 'legatees'.

Introduce systemic unemployment of no less than 3 million helping to drive down the wages of the wider workforce. All the evidence I'm prepared to listen to suggests poverty pay drives up productivity.

Privatise social services, abolish the NHS, increase illiteracy and ban Scottish and Welsh MPs from voting. At all.

Bring back hanging.

Now there's a programme all Tories can really get behind. You wouldn't catch me hugging a husky, cycling in front of a large Lexus 4x4 or walking unsteadily on the moral high ground. Oh no.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad