Ten years ago, Tony Blair’s triumph looked world-historic. He seemed like a real-life Jed Bartlet, TV’s West Wing dream liberal Democrat with a social conscience, a Nobel Prize in economics and a backbone in foreign policy. And, philosophically, Blair’s “third way” offered what progressives had long sought: anti-conservative politics that didn’t spell immediate economic, social and diplomatic catastrophe. A decade on, Blair is in horrible political trouble (his press secretary has made it clear that Blair will resign sometime next year, at the latest) and his third way looks like the biggest bust since Y2K.
John O’Sullivan, the Liverpool-born former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and National Review editor-at-large, concedes that Blair rescued the Labour party from antediluvian Marxism. But, he says, it was politically necessary to accept “the Thatcher legacy… or they would never have got back into power.” In his famous 1999 “Forces of Conservatism” speech, Blair told Labour’s Bournemouth conference: “The class war is over,” and rejected accusations of mimicking Tory economic policy by puckishly boasting he’d gone further, cutting deficits and “at long last reforming welfare, making work pay more than benefit for hard-working families.” But he wasn’t a conservative; he promised “A New Britain” because “New Labour, confident at having modernised itself . . . can modernise the nation, sweep away those forces of conservatism to set the people free.” A key passage: “The Third Way is not a new way between progressive and conservative politics. It is progressive politics distinguishing itself from conservatism of left or right.”
It sure sounded good. Progressive governance summits were irresistible to trendy people like the U.S.’s Bill Clinton and Canada’s Paul Martin. And while Blair warned in 1999 that Labour had never won two straight elections, he has won three and his foes are still in disarray. But so now is his government. Continue Reading →
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