The battle of ideas in the 1990s is less clear cut than in 1945 or 1964. The grand ideologies are dead . The left will benefit from a looser coalition with an eclectic intelligentsiaby Tony Blair / June 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Michael Young, the author of the 1945 Labour manifesto, has written that Labour’s victory in 1945 was founded on three coalitions: a coalition of ideas; a coalition of radicalism and patriotism; and “a coalition of intellectuals, thinkers and planners on the one hand, and practical politicians on the other.”* In office, the 1945 government combined values, interests and policies to fashion a political settlement that lasted a whole generation.
If Labour is to dominate again for a generation, we need to fashion a comparable settlement; that means providing an answer to the two questions which will dominate debate into the 21st century: how do we construct a new relationship between the individual and society in an era of rapid change? And how do we reshape Britain’s place in Europe and the wider world?
Our answers will have an impact only if we acknowledge the profound differences between 1996 and 1945-and even between 1996 and 1964-in the way that political ideas are generated and spread.
Values and ideas still provide the basis for policy decisions that otherwise become a matter for the technocrats. They give shape to a movement and meaning to a programme. As David Marquand has observed: “One of the safest rules of politics is that decisive political victories must follow ideological victories. Like armies sweeping through fortifications flattened by aerial bombardment, the Attlee and Thatcher governments beat demoralised opponents whose ideas had come to seem risible or contemptible or both.”
Labour is not yet at that stage. The synthesis we achieved in 1945, or the Tories managed after 1979, does not come easily. It is often forgotten, for example, that some of the people who became leading gurus of the new right in the 1980s, such as Friedrich Hayek, had spent 30 years being dismissed as cranks.
In 1963 Harold Wilson’s election as Labour leader excited a generation of intellectuals. But the euphoria of the intelligentsia that accompanied Wilson’s march to power was not matched in the ballot box. Wilson’s majority in 1964 was three seats (although it did increase in 1966). Worse still, not only were…