Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
1 August 2016updated 26 Aug 2022 1:53pm

What does Blairite really mean? That depends who you ask.

If you're befuddled by leftie political terminology, you're not alone.  

By New Statesman

Blairite (n,a)

What on earth does Blairite mean? Depending on who you ask, a Blairite could be a supporter of Tony Blair, who wants to defend New Labour’s record of Sure Start centres, civil partnerships and, well, the only elected Labour government of the past several decades – or, it could be a warmongering, MSM-controlled neoliberal who prioritises a slick media operation over political integrity.

Things have got even more confusing in recent years. After the release of the Chilcot report, Owen Jones wrote that Blairites who want a political future “need to divorce themselves from Blair” – only to be called a “Blairite traitor” himself after publishing an in-depth analysis of the weaknesses of the Corbyn administration. There were even tongue-in-cheek headlines branding Corbyn a Blairite and comparing Seumas Milne with Alastair Campbell, even though “in Corbyn-land, Blair is a byword for Satan”.

So what does it mean?

Origin

Like a surprising number of political terms – “Brexit”, a verb and noun, being an obvious contemporary example – “Blairite” has two definitions. The word is both an adjective and a noun: a politician can support “Blairite” policies, and also be “a Blairite”.

It was the adjective that came first. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded instance of the word “Blairite” in print was in a May 1993 Guardian article which suggested that “Labour radicalism in the sixties has become Blairite individualism in the nineties” (a sentence which, one suspects, might still chime with many on the hard left of Labour today).

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

It was another full year before the Guardian used “Blairite” as a noun, meaning specifically those politicians loyal to Blair. The usage became common: a 1998 Times article, for instance, explains how “those Blairites [unable to secure jobs in the new Labour government] are now to be found almost entirely in the worlds of lobbying and the media”.

This might be a slightly wonkish point, but it does have wider relevance. Because as the word “Blairite” changed from describing the views you hold to being something you are became more pronounced, so too was the term increasingly wielded as an insult ­– including, today, at MPs who weren’t even in Parliament during Blair’s tenure.

Content from our partners
What are the green skills of the future?
A global hub for content producers, gaming and entertainment companies in Abu Dhabi
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets

Photo: Historic Google searches for the term “Blairite” from 2004. The peaks are general elections.

Usage

If Blairite initially meant policies or people aligned with Blair’s ideology – meaning, to crib the basics, public service investment, an Atlanticist, interventionist foreign policy, a focus on education and stronger law enforcement – then it also quickly came to mean “not a Brownite”.

This is a significant point, because it is the first hint that “Blairite” denotes something tribal, as well as something ideological.

It’s this tribal connotation which has allowed the term to retain such purchase today, over a decade after Blair was an MP. As Gaby Hinsliff wrote in the Guardian, Blair’s brand has become “toxic” for many – even though there is “a coming generation of voters who barely remember him in office”. It’s a deadly combination among the young, activist Left, who understand Blair’s legacy as being typified by the disastrous intervention in Iraq rather than anything positive that preceded it. For the Corbynistas doing everything possible to distance themselves from what they see as the unforgivably right-leaning New Labour, “Blairite” has come to signify the worst of Blair’s premiership – and an aspect of Labour tainted by association.

So, while there have been scores of articles over the years declaring that Blairites don’t really exist in any real sense anymore, the word “Blairite” continues to be used as often as ever. And while some might say that the fact it has become a primarily evaluative term might risk rendering the word meaningless – aside from anachronistic – the fact the term is held in common usage by the hard Left, even if it’s a usage increasingly divorced from its adjectival, ideological origins, means we’re unlikely to see the back of it anytime soon.

[See also: Does Tony Blair’s new centrist project have any answers?]

Topics in this article: , ,