Peter Mandelson and Roger Liddle have just written the unofficial New Labour manifesto for the next election. It is more coherent and less conformist than he had feared. But the book does not develop a political economy of stakeholding and it lacks the bite of the US Democrats' latest plansby Will Hutton / March 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in March 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
For all of this century the search has been on for a model of economic and social organisation offering an alternative to the brutalities of laissez-faire capitalism and the inefficiencies of central planning. For the British left, failure at four successive elections, combined with the implosion of scientific socialism and the triumph of market individualism, has made the quest more urgent. Comfortable leadership in opinion polls can be anaesthetising, but in its bones Labour still knows that power depends on elaborating a viable and attractive conception of social capitalism-that elusive “middle way.”
It is in this context that Peter Mandelson’s and Roger Liddle’s The Blair Revolution should be read. The book is so clearly bound up with both men’s political ambitions that it is almost impossible to disentangle its seriousness of intent from its publishing status as a mini-political event. None the less it is a book cast firmly in the “middle way” tradition-the modern stakeholder variant-and for all its flaws it deserves serious engagement.
Mandelson is so well known as Blair’s alter ego, now entrusted with the party’s election campaign committee, that the co-authored book will have to bear intense scrutiny. There is not only a Labour party suspicious of his influence and right wing inclinations, but also there is an army of Tory apparatchiks and civil service mandarins who will be quarrying every nook and cranny for political ammunition and clues to Labour’s intentions in government. (Shadow cabinet jealousies have been accommodated with obsequious plaudits all round.)
Indeed, the writers appear so wary of the weight of interest from detractors and supporters alike that the style is often irritatingly guarded-larded in the conditional tense and anxious to present options rather than hard proposals. The radical ideas foreshadowed in press leaks, from arguing for a formal coalition with the Liberal Democrats to abolishing universal child benefit, have been eschewed to minimise further ruptures within the party-although traces remain in the floating of no-strike agreements in the public sector and the notion that local funding for education could be substantially boosted. Yet the Labour party can be reassured: the book only rarely accommodates neo-conservatism, and in parts it is authentically and originally left of centre.