Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Last Word: A Blairite writes …

Jamie Reed MP guest writes this week’s Last Word column

What is a Blairite? Nearly twenty years since the 1997 election victory, the term defies precise definition. Nontheless, the meaning of the tem remains contested by self-confessed Blairites, anti-Blairites, neo-Blairites, post-Blairites and by some with a pathological obsession with the man himself. The programme of the Blair government is even the subject of academic study at London’s Queen Mary university. The forensic analysis of any government’s legislative programmes can be arid fare; the culture, values and behaviours of a party or government – for this writer at least – are more appealing. With this in mind, no explanation or definition of ‘Blairism’ is possible without understanding what it means culturally and in terms of behavior- particularly in the context of the post-war Labour Party.

I don’t care if I am categorised as a Blairite or not, though I’m very happy to be described as such. I’m proud of the record of the last Labour government. It was transformational for our country. It governed in the interests of the overwhelming majority of people in Britain and improved the lives of millions. This is incontestable.

But this progress was only made possible by new behaviours emerging within the Labour party and amongst Labour politicians. These new behaviours were as numerous as they were significant and they changed the Labour party for the better: an understanding that individual aspiration was good for society, that wealth has to be grown before it can be distributed, that business at every level is part of the great society and not its enemy, that Britain should play a leading global role with regard to the biggest challenges facing the planet, from climate change to international development to the combatting of terrorism. The definitive list is long and profound but two other qualities are synonymous with ‘Blairism’.

The first quality is bravery. Politics in the comfort zone, whether your own or that of your natural supporters is seductive and easy. Blairism eschewed this. Overwhelmingly, this bravery was for a purpose, occasionally this was undoubtedly egregious and symbolic. This bravery showed itself in public service reform and public service investment. In the NHS, the bravery demonstrated was remarkable. The New Labour government took NHS expenditure from £30 billion per annum in 1997 to over £110 billion in 2010. In the process, it established the largest ever hospital building programme our country has ever seen and embarked upon a recruitment programme that resulted in tens of thousands more doctors and nurses right across the NHS. Not only was this necessary, it was brave. Prior to the 1997 election, would New Labour have dared to explain the scale of our ambitions for the NHS? Would we have trusted people to have believed that in little over ten years we would have transformed the service on the scale that we did? I doubt it – most people would have struggled to comprehend the size of our ambition or – understandably – have faith in the ability of any government to deliver it.

The second quality is the desire to win. Call it professionalism if you like, but this desire to win manifested itself in profound behavioural change across the Labour party. ‘Blairism’ turned a loose collection of powerful egos and self-styled mavericks into an unstoppable progressive political force. A new ‘corporate’ approach to communication and messaging replaced the approach of the noisy classroom traditionally deployed by divergent voices across the Labour movement. It’s impossible to understate the value and power of this change. It was a critical factor in achieving an unprecedented triple-crown of election victories but at it’s heart, this change – from public self-indulgence to corporate discipline – illustrates one of the most remarkable and definitive cultural qualities of ‘Blairism’: the will to win.

That’s why Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham’s ten year plan for the NHS is so exciting for those of us with the bravery to advocate big ideas vital to the success of our country and for those of us with the will to win the 2015 general election. At the launch of Labour’s ten year plan for the NHS at the King’s Fund this week, chief executive Chris Ham told the standing-room only audience that other political parties had been invited to share their ideas for the NHS and its future with them in precisely the same way ‘either they don’t have them or they don’t want to’, Ham explained.

Labour’s NHS plan is the bravest you will find: 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more doctors, 5,000 more home care workers, 3,000 more midwives. New rights for patients enshrined in the NHS constitution. For the first time ever, medical apprenticeships and technical degrees so that we can invest in the future of the NHS and grow our own army of medics. More than ever before, the freedom for local health economies to innovate, partner and share best-practice. The golden thread running through this is reform, not revolution. The top down Tory reorganisation of the NHS has brought the service to it’s knees – it doesn’t have the capacity to deal with another and what kind of party committed to the efficient expenditure of public money could possibly want to spend more billions on another upheaval?

In September last year, professor Patrick Diamond – a Blairite like me and a former advisor to both Brown and Blair – wrote that ‘…if voters are to entrust it with the keys to 10 Downing Street, Mr Miliband’s party must demonstrate it is capable of facing up to long-term challenges and being brave, not just telling voters what they want to hear’.

Labour’s plan for the NHS is brave and in an era of political disengagement it’s a policy to breakthrough what so many people see as the monochrome landscape of modern British politics. Most of all, Labour’s ten year plan demonstrates our will to win.

As a front-bench Blairite, I am delighted with that.

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Jamie Reed is member of parliament for Copeland. He tweets @jreedmp

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Jamie Reed MP

is member of parliament for Copeland. He is shadow minister for health and writes The Last Word column on Progress

20 comments

  • Only a complete idiot would be proud to be called a confidence trickster, which is what Blair was and is.

  • Blair is a war criminal and a murderer. He should be on trial in The Hague. Blair’s “courage” took us into an illegal war, kissing George W’s ass! As for the NHS and public services he and Brown squandered the nations wealth on Spin. Nearly bankrupted the country behind the smoke-screen of promoting public service. Mean while his sycophantic followers and consultants enriched themselves at the tax payers expense. His Government introduced a dictator led bureaucracy, where 2 + 2 did equal 5. Does the electorate really want more of this, albeit watered down under the weak un-original Milliband. His suggestions for treating people ‘Closer To Home’ and bringing services into the community through local cottage hospitals, with support in the community, has been NHS policy for years. Health Service managers are working hard at this in Cumbria at this current moment. I have not forgotten that in 2006 Jamie Reed MP supported a Blair Government propsosal to close rural cottage hospitals in his constituency of Copeland and a massive public protest halted the process towards the myth that big is better. I certainly know who I will not be voting for in May.

  • what do you know about austerity? how many bankers are locked up?whose labour blaming for the economic breakdown?again what the hell do you lot know about austerity? how many labour MP’s who claim a TV licence are over 75? Calling Northerners ‘Thick’.sorry Mr Reed.you are well past your sell by date.this mansion tax is going to pay for everything.it’s beginning to look like Flubber.as i said Northerners won’t be treated as ‘Thick’.this bunch of labour mp’s are all SPAD’s.either for the party or in europe.may i be so bold as to remind you.don’t insult long time labour voters,and activists.you have forgotten who your work for.Us,the tax payer,the voters.finally.the NHS.who brought in PFI.who removed Labour people on Hospital Trusts,and replaced them with tories? No i won’t be voting labour.i can’t even hold my nose to vote labour.i hold my nose against the nasty stench that comes from labour.i will repeat.you did’nt suffer austerity.but labour voted to carry on what the tories are doing.the party has lost it’s soul.it’s decency.shame on all of you.

  • The Tories had lost the 1997 election LONG before Blair had got anywhere near leadership. What Blair/Brown did was simply to continue the with the whole neoliberal agenda, leading to the disasterous results you see before you. But don’ you worry yourself. When you leave parliament you can always set up a “consultancy”like the rest of your mates and enrich yourself via the public purse. You people make me want to vomit.

  • What is Blairism? I am not sure that Jamie answered the question. Major features of Blairism were ending free higher education, expanding the role of the private sector in public services, the invasion of Iraq, being “tough” on crime, civil liberties and asylum seekers, an uncritical attitude towards business, light regulation of the City and not increasing taxes on the wealthy. One of Ed Miliband’s achievements has been moving away from this agenda without upsetting people like Jamie too much.

  • The democrats won 5 elections on the trot 1932-1948 and Truman had wobbles before being reselected in 1948′ it was possible that the Tories could have won a fifth term in 97′ the republicans to win in 1952 had to accept the new deal concensus, same as we had to accept the end ofthe post war concensus ,was what the public wanted ,after 1979 ,the disastrous results we see before ourselves?

  • Are you saying Ed miliband doesn’t want to be tough on crime,
    That’s a great slogan to win over the electorate! Lol.

  • The Tories could in theory have won in ’97, but it was very, very, very, very, VERY unlikely. As to the end of the post war consensus, Thatcher only ever had 42% of the national vote – FPTP ensured her victory.

  • I hope that he has moved away from the unthinking authoritarianism of the Blair years, although I am not sure.

  • Apart from the fact that the Liberals SDP or the Irish nationalists ,voted for her trade union reforms or privatisation, and their additional vote would have took her above 50%, the Elections she fought were 77% turn outs, Labur won the october 1974 election with 38% of the vote on a 72% turn out,when they scrapped Ted heaths industrial relations act,and brought in the closed shop, so the consensus wasn’t that popular in the first place

  • I don’t agree with a lot of the events under Tony Blair. Its unforgivable what they have done to the entire middle east to satisfy US megalomania and revenge for what happened then. We did not want to go to war. He became dictatorial; we now saw a repeat performance by David Cameron with our NHS…almost ruined. Blair could have reformed the archaic legal system and made it simpler and CHEAPER. None of us can afford justice and now if we do not get Ed.Miliband with a strong mandate NHS will fly away from us too. The crimes of the middle East and all those Christians from Lebanon to Libya,a ruined Egypt once a thriving Country. If we had justice he should be there with Bush, and Kissinger and Nataniahou; The Palestinian and Cyprus need an urgent just and fair settlement. As long as US gets away with these kinds of murders and pushes other immature countries like Georgia, and now Ukraine against Russia because US wants to control the Earth Planet. Other Nations especially UK follow like sheep. We want to see fairness and above all Democracy not US bribed and paid style. The economy once and for all it was the Greed of the Banks, not Gordon and Blair. Thanks to Gordon we remained outside the Eurozone,thanks to Gordon he dropped %rates and protected peoples mortgages also gave a good time payment protection to find work to save repossecions of peoples’ houses. UNLIKE Maggie Thatcher that% rates were higher than Barclaycard cradit rates. and took NO ACTION …” I will make share holders, and House owners of you” bitterly backfired into peoples’ faces. She too also sold all the energy Water BA, Petrol and twice raised the VAT. Then she closed all Mental Hospitals promised to provide Com.PSY.Nurses, and did sweet nothing.Brown paid the MKeynes US loan on time on the Year 2000! And for an ultra socialist but a genius in Economics,and money affairs Rescued the Banks and if he was not demonised by the Capitalists he would have taken tough action on the banks but with more Global action. .As a result of Maggie’s follies instead of paying my mortgages by 2000 and earlier I now have them % only. GeorgeO only managed to pay the WW1 bebt in 2014 at Christmas.time!! So do not tell me Austerity can notbe managed with more economic insight for comfort and growth. It was Lamont who took us in the Eurozone and we got a taste of Germany’s obsession for control,and IN control of Europe. There is very little Democracy in Europe’s way of Democracy.. Goodness knows how much the Torie led Coalition borrowed from the US your dear Mr.GOsb.. I see no leadership in David Cameron but a self Centered hyperinflated Ego and good salesman. Gets personally involved,angry and patronising,and NEVER ever answered PMQ’s. Maggie sold all Ancillary Hospital staff calling them -Hotel Services- as if NHS were Hotels; The small day rooms each ward had vanished and we had TV,and phones to pay. we missed the togetherness of talking and spend money to private companies instead…this is what annoyed most. Same with the parking parks not money for the NHS but again to Private companies. May God rest her soul but she never sorted anything out! Mental health is completely out of control, and Osborne’s austerity turned most of our Nation into Reactive Depressives; suicides, and nutritional deficiencies that we had put an end in WWii. Destroyed the coal industry, sold the steel com; Lost our Milk board ; most of our industries are gone to other countries.. She did make a better Housing Act for the BUY to let as the previous Labour Gov. made a dog’s dinner out of this; There must be a balance for fairness as Tenants are not always angels as the same for Landlords. The Rent must be paid especially if it is buy to let Mortgages. The councils must not be aloud to sell Council houses, but be kept for those not able to afford to buy; she sold them on the very cheap i.e. sold for £10’000 pounds to my friend, and they sold same 2 years on for £37,000 pounds. The point is that the council was selling but never replacing! This is my point. At times Gov.get things wrong and rectify it and learn from this. Labour on the VERY few Mistakes since inception corrects itself. Sadly The Tories never think believe or admit their gross mistakes…ALWAYS as a result of their chronic Dogmas…these are the Dangers of voting TORY NOW! VOTING for them will take us back to 1930’s the day after the poll result. Heaven save us from a Tory GOV. For our times now and the next 10 years think again and VOTE Labour in particular Ed Miliband. as our PM. He is a very capable man for our Nation.

  • That the post war concensus wasn’t as popular as people thought and that Mrs T had more than the 42(sic) who voted for her. Supporting her changes

  • What cost labour at that time was disillusionment and changes in the economic structures both of the U.K. and the world. Going to the I.M.F and the subsequent cuts, which Healy later admitted to be a mistake, anti trade union legislation the oil shock, the winter of discontent and growing deindustrialisation all had an effect. The new neoliberal consensus amongst the global “elite” started to develop at this time and was given impetus by these factors. As to those others who voted for her, the D.U.P. Et al were largely involved in pork barrel politics although they did tend to have an affinity with the old style tories. The S.D.P were attempting to draw a distinction between themselves and labour. I agree that ’79 was a sea change election, but the point still remains that Blair/Broon had a great opportunity to change things in ’97 and signally failed.

  • Ok. We’ll free to disagree, if labour had stood on a ts and spend bring back Union laws manifesto in 97 I feel they’d have lost, despite black Wednesday 5 years earlier helping them

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