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UK Prime-minister. Leader of the LabourParty

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Way too close to RupertMurdoch

Quora Answer : Why did Labour under Tony Blair win the 1997 UK election, and with such a large majority?

Dec 28, 2019

1 The Tories were fighting about Europe and the UK public never like a party that looks disunited.

2 The right wing media, especially Murdoch, didn't like Major. They preferred someone on the centre-left who seemed to be moving rightwards, than someone on the centre-right who might start drifting leftwards.

Quora Answer : If Tony Blair had been a Labour leader again, instead of Corbyn, would've he beat by a landslide Boris Johnson and the Tories in the general election?

Aug 20, 2019

It's hard to answer, as the situation is very different.

It would depend a lot on the story behind Blair being in charge of Labour.

Let's say Blair has been leader of Labour all this time, during the whole Cameron / May / Johnson term as PM.

Firstly, I think that after the referendum, he would actually have triangulated Labour to not be a Remain party. Blair's "centrism" was always partly about positioning Labour where he saw "the wind blowing".

Faced with a rising tide of Euroscepticism and populism in the UK, and a referendum result suggesting that people, including many Labour voters, wanted out of the EU, I think it's quite plausible that Blair's Labour would have tried exactly the kind of triangulation that Corbyn's has done.

Remember how there were Labour centrists of the time saying "oh yes, actually we must take the working class's worries about competition from cheap EU workers seriously". Even Blair himself has voiced concerns about immigration :

"I sometimes hear it argued, particularly on the left, that the very act of engaging seriously with those concerns amounts to a form of political surrender and that instead of pandering to people's anxieties, centrist politicians should make the case more explicitly for the benefits of immigration. This is not just misguided. It is dangerous.

Of course, politicians of all persuasions have an obligation to call out prejudice and fight attempts to use immigration as a means of exploiting fears in order to sow division. However, I do not believe that the majority of public concern about immigration is driven by irrational fear."

All (sane) leaders become more pragmatic and cautious once they actually have power and responsibility. Blair and Corbyn are alike here.

So Blair vs. Boris in 2019, wouldn't be the Blair you see championing Remain the way he does now as a political outsider. But a Blair making very Blairish sophisticated arguments about how his Labour would do a softer, kinder Brexit. One that negotiated to get a good deal and leave on good terms with the EU, while respecting the British people's will to finish with full EU membership.

I think that, by now. With Blair having been a mainstream establishment figure for 30 odd years, the anti-establishment energy would still very much be with Johnson. The attacks on Blair from the right would be different from the attacks on Corbyn. But wouldn't necessarily be much less fierce. He'd be accused of having promoted multi-culturalism and globalization. And having been complicit in expanding the EU and bringing Eastern Europeans to the UK. Of not having used the mechanisms available to him of limiting those Eastern Europeans.

In trying to counter this criticism, he'd likely hold Labour to the "committed to Brexit / committed to a good trade deal" line that pretty much all politicians have espoused.

The hardcore Remainers would be as sceptical of Labour as they are today. (Not to go on about the Iraq war, but as a comparable data-point, the Lib Dems were happy to cast themselves as the anti-war party AGAINST Blair. For all he is held up as the voice of moderate common-sense today, the Lib Dems were delighted to use him as a foil to highlight their greater purity back in 2004. )

So no, today I think Blair might have been able to beat Boris in a 2019 election by a slim margin. But I don't think his policies would be all that different from Corbyn's or his chances considerably better. Both would rely on Lib Dems seeing sense and being tactical despite their purist preferences. Both would, at best, find themselves having to make some kind of power-share with the SNP / Lib Dems as the price of forming a government. Etc.

Quora Answer : Why did the British Labour Party abandon Blairism which was successful and smart?

Jun 26, 2019

Blair's government was a product of its times.

Most people, including voters, bought the neoliberal story that private initiative should make all the decisions. And the government was just there to protect people from the sharp edges. The world economy seemed to be growing, everyone seemed to be getting better off with capital in charge. So that argument could be made with the straight face.

Then things began to go wrong.

Blair joined the invasion of Iraq. That was wrong. But not the real problem. Politicians can and do stupid things all the time.

No, it was a symptom of the real, deeper problem. That Blair's power was a façade. Blair wasn't really in charge.

Blair was running scared of the media. Of RupertMurdoch. And Murdoch wanted the invasion of Iraq. (Which is why his FoxNews pushed it the whole time)

Ultimately Blair could do what Murdoch let him do. He joined the Iraq invasion because he calculated that he couldn't afford to be seen to be going against it.

By accepting the neoliberalism that Thatcher had bequeathed the country, and giving up the argument that a Labour government could be an active investor in, and economic agent which was actually GOOD for the economy and national welfare, Blair had given up the idea that government was really necessary at all.

If all a Labour government was, was a way of offering a palliative treatment to those who fell through capitalism's cracks : the poor and disabled and disengaged underclass etc. And as a kind of international do-gooder. (Which is the world-view and role that Blair accepted for Labour) then inevitably, it was only there on sufferance. The moment times got hard, and the Tories could make an argument that "we couldn't afford to be this generous", the whole New Labour project lost its raisan d'etre. And Cameron could just waltz in and launch austerity.

If Blair had actually made the case to the British voters that they needed his government's interventions and activities for their own good, then he'd have been on firmer ground to resist Murdoch's demands for Iraq etc. He'd have had a mandate in his own right. As it was, he ducked that argument, and allowed the public to see his administration as a luxury, only to be indulged in when they felt they had sufficient to spare.

The second thing that went wrong was the world economy blowing up in 2008.

That clearly demonstrated that unregulated finance did not create stability but was effectively an unstable casino. And you couldn't trust it to run itself. Worse, it revealed that the feeling of economic security felt by the middle class was an illusion. Job security had collapsed. Wages were, at best, stagnant despite the economic boom. What kept the middle class feeling "OK" was the rising price of their home relative to the cost of their mortgage, and "treating their house as an ATM".

The moment the property market blew up, and their house price collapsed, they started to feel how exposed they really were. As globalization was sucking the industrial economy and secondary services out of the West and into China. As work was ever more precarious ... freelance, short-term, zero-contracts etc.

The social safety nets held up under Blair and Brown. But the moment Cameron took power, they were ruthlessly cut. Revealing, again, how flimsy the foundation, how shallowly rooted, the Blair / Brown good times really were.

This is why the British Labour Party had to give up Blairism. It depended on a particular time and state of the world economy that have now gone, however much you wish them back.

World capitalism is harsher and more aggressive than ever. People feel the insecurity more keenly. They are more stressed, more protective of what they have, less willing to accept risks and embrace change and difference.

Both the financial resources AND the social cohesion that Blairism relied on, are gone.

What is left is the need for a Labour Party that can make an uncompromising argument for an interventionist Labour. For a government that actually challenges capitalism for power, takes power from capital, and secures economic spaces which are run for the benefit of the people who live, work and consume in them, not just the investors who hover over the top.

A Labour which has the will and stomach for the fight against capital. To tell it "no". Rather than duck out and tell it "yes" as Blair and co were inclined to do.

Quora Answer : What could Blair have done better to ensure Labour remained left-wing but the country was not economically stuck as in the 20th century pre-Thatcher?

Apr 25, 2016

I take some of Simon Crump's points about the constraints on an overt left-wing politician getting elected at all. But let's say Blair was more of a (closet) leftist than he turned out to be. What might he have done?

He could have been far more socially liberal:

  • thrown his support behind decriminalizing cannabis. And pushed for a far more lenient and enlightened policy on drugs. (And saved a lot of money for the police and prison services as a result.)
  • NOT had authoritarians like Jack Straw and David Blunket as Home Secretary
  • civil partnerships were a move in the right direction. I won't blame him for not going for full gay marriage which was an idea that hadn't quite arrived. But if he'd been really keen he could have pushed it.

He could have been far better on the environment

  • some large scale / strategic plan to reduce carbon emissions and move the UK to alternative energy sources.
  • If he'd cared, he could have renegotiated a better deal on North Sea oil ... closer to that of Norway. Slowing the rate of extraction and getting more for the UK taxpayer from it.

International Relations

  • a more left-wing leader would have been FAR more suspicious of the US's hegemonic aspirations in the middle-east. It would have been perfectly possible for Blair to declare the UK's solidarity with the US in fighting Osama Bin Laden, and even to have participated in the invasion of Afghanistan, but to have still drawn the line at, and refused to participate in, the invasion of Iraq. Harold Wilson kept the UK out of the Vietnam War. A more left-wing Blair could have kept the UK out of Iraq. And in doing so, saved his own reputation and the reputation of his government. The Iraq war is now universally recognized as a cock-up. A Blair who was consistent in saying that the West had to stand firm against Islamic terror but that an attack on Iraq was irrelevant and counterproductive (a fairly conventional left-wing position), would today look like a visionary statesman and likely be proudly embraced by today's Labour Party.

The UK Economy

  • Blair and Brown's greatest economic failure was in not keeping the City of London in check. Had they been more suspicious of "self-regulation" in the City, and been willing to commit to government oversight and intervention (despite howls of protest from the financiers), we might well have avoided the spectacular crash of 2008 altogether. Or least reduced its impact (activist regulators would have challenged banks earlier, leading to earlier, smaller, and more manageable failures.) Of course, had this happened, we'd have no post-2008 perspective, and so people would probably just grumble that he'd choked the dynamism of the City. But that's life for politicians, sometimes they just get the blame. However, once again, a Blair with more left-wing instincts would have saved the UK a lot of suffering.
  • Blair should have been more worried about the UK's over-dependency on the financial sector and lack of manufacturing industry. Maybe there really wasn't anything he could do about this. It's hard to see how to turn the UK into Germany. But then again, he also didn't try very hard.
  • Blair and Brown relied on Private finance initiatives to fund a lot of their spending. The value of these is fairly ambiguous. PFI certainly allowed the government to access new money. But in the long term, these are expensive loans. And the benefits have sometimes been fairly short term. A more left-wing Blair could have relied less on PFI and more on a mix of other sources of money. For example, by stealing te LibDem policy of targeted tax increases (eg. the extra penny to be spent only on education).

See also :