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