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Blair's project in retrospect

By John Gray


New Labour came into being as an attempt to frame a successor project to Thatcherism, but in practice it has proved to be a continuation of it. Blair's project was to achieve hegemony for Labour by blending free market policies with a concern for social cohesion. He accepted the new economic settlement that Thatcher had established, but believed it could be made more sustainable if it was tempered with a concern for social justice. Within the Labour Party his project was set in terms of modernizing social democracy, but in the country as a whole it was perceived as a variation on One Nation Toryism - a strand in the British political tradition which the Conservatives had seemingly forgotten. In fact, Blair's domestic agenda has had more in common with Thatcher's than with either social democracy or One Nation Toryism. There were significant constitutional reforms in the first term, but privatization and the injection of market mechanisms into hitherto autonomous institutions has remained the central thrust of policy. Blair has been committed to modernizing Britain, but his conception of modernization was a variation on Thatcher's. In one centrally important area, Blair diverges from Thatcher: he believes an essential component of Britain's modernization was an improved relationship with the EU, culminating in British entry into the euro. Yet his uncompromising support for the US over Iraq has left Britain as deeply alienated from France and Germany as it had ever been in Thatcher's time. Britain may still some day join the euro, but it will not be Tony Blair who takes us in. Blair's strategy was to attain hegemony for New Labour by appropriating the Thatcherite inheritance. In domestic terms, this strategy has been a success, but it relies on continuing Conservative weakness and an economic and international environment congenial to neo-liberal policies. At present both of these conditions appear to be changing to Blair's disadvantage. The Conservative Party seems to be shaping a post-Thatcherite agenda. At the same time, the US is leading a movement away from neo-liberal orthodoxies towards protectionism and deficit financing and faces an intractable guerrilla war in Iraq. In these circumstances, the neo-Thatcherite strategy that sustained Blair in power could prove to be his undoing

Topics: DA Great Britain
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing
Year: 2004
DOI identifier: 10.1111/j.1468-2346.2004.00364.x
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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