Edward Pearce is getting worried about Tony Blair and has a few suggestions for himby Edward Pearce / July 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
The opposition has a 30 per cent lead and is seen as the next government, so what’s wrong with it?
Governments only matter if they have done some serious thinking before coming to office. Attlee could call on the work of Beveridge and Keynes and 30 years of Fabian thinking. Margaret Thatcher in 1979 ran hard with the work of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute.
Politicians don’t nationalise or privatise without someone first proposing it in a boring pamphlet. But the Blair leadership, for all its apparent interest in new thinking, seems not to read boring pamphlets and to resent all unauthorised ideas. It may be that lucid plans are being laid-away from public notice. If they are not, the Blair leadership will be the most vacuous since Stanley Baldwin.
Labour would be right to withhold detail, to observe prudence. The Tory press, if not still trying to kill John Major, will be predicting tidal waves of tax increases, treble-costing every Labour policy and forecasting trade union tumbrils in Hyde Park. But that should not prevent a ferment of ideas without formal avowal. There is life outside the manifesto.
The trauma imposed by the tax scare of 1992 risks turning reaction into paralytical over-reaction. Witness the railways. There is no good reason for the distribution of the network among creamers-off and subsidy-bibbers. And in opposition Labour could have hobbled it-by a firm commitment to re-nationalise Railtrack and punitive regimes for private rail companies. A little resolute heavy breathing by an opposition wanting to stop the sale would have blasted the entire thing.
The bleakest fear is that the leader didn’t want to stop the sale. When has Tony Blair found a Conservative idea wrong? One doesn’t mind him being small “c” conservative, but hopes and trusts that he isn’t becoming gently upper-cased.
Of course Labour had to rethink its position. No one wants it saying it will do this because it is Labour and exists to do it. Nor do we want union heavies calling the shots. The Benn diaries are too full of what, 15 years ago, “Moss and Clive” would or wouldn’t wear. But liberation from the dismal boyars of the unions ought to have meant the flourishing of ideas, a brew of debate, a hundred flowers blooming. Instead, we have a regime of foot-stamping imperiousness, hitting on the head the impudent…