By Patrick Brogan
“The fourth sector is really about empowering ordinary people to give a little bit extra and thus create something extraordinary.” Nicola Murray, The Thick of It*
The old help people to help themselves ideology. Isn’t this the job of most governments? Essentially, they help a society and the people within it to fulfill potential. Over the centuries, there have been a number of theories put forward as to how to achieve this. These theories were hotly debated in the aftermath of Word War Two. Europe and parts of the rest of the world were nearly torn asunder. The divine right of kings was definitely out. The old ways didn’t work and this was known for quite some time. Political discourse in the postwar world now took another dimension. It wasn’t just about a functioning society and people living comfortably anymore. No, human survival was a stake. Civilisation could not withstand a third global conflict. Many ideas have come to the fore about preventing this. Most of them were based on some sort of balance and equality.
The Third Way
The Third Way is part of that wave of optimistic endeavour. What is it? In short, it is a compromise between rampant capitalism and overbearing socialism and it has dominated British politics in this century. It is the governance of “New Labour” and Tony Blair. Its impact is still being felt.
The transformation of the British Labour Party in the last century is a fascinating one. It is the party of the National Health Service. A health service for all of the people, even the poor. Traditionally it has been a very left leaning party and has become so again under Jeremy Corbyn’s stewardship. Something happened in the 80s that knocked the party of its axis; Margaret Thatcher. In the 80s, privatisation was seen as the only way to operate a functional society. This was the exact opposite of the beliefs of Nye Bevan, founder of the NHS, and the Labour founders. Labour‘s problem was Thatcher and the Conservative Party kept being returned to power by the British people and this continued on into the 90s. Something was needed, an overhaul of Labour and what it stood for.
Tony Blair believed he had the answer. If the old Labour values represented the first way and Thatcher’s ideology was the second, then he would compromise and offer a third way. Indeed, if even Blair wanted to follow the same route as Thatcher, I’m not saying he did, it would never fly with the rank and file Labour supporters. Margaret Thatcher’s legacy left a sour taste in the mouth of working class Britain. The Conservatives have always held a certain amount of disdain for the British “lower-classes”. This, of course, should not be a surprise in a nation that still supports the notion of a monarchy and commonwealth. In sections of many Christian nations, it is accepted that poverty is a punishment from God. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus said in the gospels, oddly enough. If Blair were to entertain this idea, Labour would reject him outright.
The compromise was this; keep the traditional values of socialism like solidarity and helping the poorest and most vulnerable in society. This is coupled with providing an environment whereby business can grow. It all sounds very utopian. The brains behind “New Labour” were not the first to think of this idea. It is a centuries old idea, but it was perfect for a Labour Party wanting to hold onto its core membership yet attract those that voted for successive Tory governments.
Does leaving the EU mean going underground?
Did it Work?
Well, it certainly did for Labour. They won three elections in a row. There were also many positives left behind for the British people, too. An improved NHS, initially anyway, and the Good Friday Agreement and the establishment of a minimum wage. Tony Blair was heavily involved in all of these and it is to his credit they were achieved.
In terms of achieving the Third Way, though, the party failed. There are numerous reasons for this. A consequence of being beating in so many General Elections resulted in the party becoming obsessed with polls and focus groups. They tried to appeal more to the subconscious and as a result lost focus on the political end of their mission. This mirrors closely what happened the Democrats in America at around this time.
One of the tenets of New Labour was to produce a generation of competent, independent youths. The problem was, the infrastructure for this was never put in place. Teachers were never given the resources to produce these super children. A lot the “new” ideas sound great on paper, but the practicality of executing them was not there. There was no will to put them there neither. This was all part of the focus groups and telling people what they wanted to hear.
A very unLabour way of dealing with the financial crash would be to let the bankers that created the mess go unpunished, earn the extortionate bonuses as they did before and then expect the taxpayer to clean up the mess. In Britain, this is what happened as it did elsewhere in Europe. It’s very easy to make promises about supporting and helping those in society that need it the most when the economy is going well. As we seen, when the chips are down, it’s the bankers that get the help because they are calling the shots, not the Government. Blair’s government was no different.
The Iraq War
Is Blair a war criminal? Yes, in the sense that British soldiers broke most of the laws set out in the Geneva Convention on war crimes. This, along with the false pretense of the war has damaged British reputation. Many commentators have said Britain became America’s lapdog. I before prefer to think the British war machine as an immoral Artful Dodger. “What can I do you for? It’s a dossier you’re after? Sure, I can get you a dossier.” It’s one thing to create a war for your own nation, to do it for somebody else is reaching a new low in diplomacy and sycophancy.
The media has a lot to answer for. When the media doesn’t hold the political classes to account it is inevitable harmful practices will ensue. However, it is no surprise that the media in Britain failed to do so. The British media is dominated by Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch. He has come to be a kingmaker of sorts in Britain. All must seek his approval, prime ministers Blair and Cameron did so very publicly. There is a cosy relation between government and any media owned or run by Murdoch, which is most of it. Repeatedly, Murdoch’s media outlets have been proven to break protocol or even laws and yet, he’s allowed to swan off unpunished. Another example of the Blairites allowing the rich off the hook at the expense to the ordinary Briton. The expense here being a lack of information to make decisions and no accountability for either politicians or journalists.
The Third Way and New Labour sounds real good on paper. As do all political theories. The manner in how they are implemented is the key to how successful they are. Taking the best of socialism and capitalism sounds great. However, it took the worst of these systems. It fostered the egotistical, greed is good mentality so championed by Thatcher and sistered that to the overbearing qualities associated with extreme socialism. Big government and bigger corporations.
There is something the Blair years did that is more insidious and not immediately obvious. They narrowed the political discourse. With the help of Murdoch’s media, they created a watered down language wherein people were afraid to criticise. Surely criticism is one of the bedrocks of democracy. Orwell’s nightmare came true. It was a strange combination of mollycoddling and ruthlessness. It is a rejection of all these things that led to Britain opting out the EU as the bureaucrats in Brussels also extol these virtues. It even goes back to the war in Iraq. Britain, once the world’s largest empire is reduced to being the States’, a former colony, lackey. Blair’s policies are as much to blame for the so-called Brexit as anything else.
Politics is about reaching a compromise,or building bridges if you will. Great use of landmarks for this article, I think you'll agree.
What We Can Learn from the Blair Years?
There is a lot to be learned from the Blair years. Firstly, everything sounds good on paper, but if it is not monitored it will become a monster. Too much emphasis is put on political theory rather than helping people. This is not difficult to achieve. Secondly, the financial institutes have the real power. This much should be very clear to anyone who has observed the past decade.
Why are the Current Power Structures in Place?
Surely, when a political party wins an election, they would want to have unbridled power without interference from monied interests or corporations. The reality is these groups, political and financial, form a coalition to limit and control society. This is something that goes to the core of politicians like Tony Blair. Although he is not a bad person, Blair believes humans should be controlled for their own good. After witnessing two world wars, many felt that humanity’s freedom should be curbed as there was a belief that humans given free reign would destroy themselves. What happened in Yugoslavia in the 90s reinforced this idea. The Freud family were the biggest and most prominent proponents of this view. So, in their own flawed way, these people think they are helping the rest of us. Whether they are seriously misguided or using it to their own advantage is impossible to tell. It’s likely it’s a bit of both. The outcome is the same, however.
Part of this politics of fear was the creation of the European Economic Community. A community, that’s what all people need. Why not do it on an international scale? Also, having open borders is a great way of keeping tabs on each other. Now anger has replaced that fear, the good ideas are being thrown out with the bad ones. No system or organisation is perfect and it is through dialogue that these are modified and improved. But Blair denied the British people this dialogue. Now the rest of us have to deal with the fallout.
*It’s always a good day when it starts with you “having to” watch The Thick of It for quotes. What a time to be alive.
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