Tasked to write a comment on the recent general election from a centre-left perspective I was puzzled: Centre-left? What was that again? Then I remembered: Bill Clinton’s election victory in 1993, Blair’s 1997 victory and all the other new “centre-left” governments (they prefer to call themselves “progressive” governments) that followed in Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Hungary … Suddenly, left-wing governments sprouted all over Europe and opened up the chance of changing Europe fundamentally, for the sake of the people living here and all over the world. A new age had begun.
The success of these governments was undoubtfully due to their economic performance. The Third Way’s welfare to work programme and the cutting of public spending made people believe that social democratic governments cannot only spend public money for expensive welfare programmes, but actually quite successfully run a huge economy.
“Blairnomics” – the centre-left version of Reagonomics (or Thatcherism as you say here) basically built on targets, but many Labour supporters now think that Tony Blair did especially meet one target: Saddam Husseins palace in Bhagdad. Not that we ordinary leftists liked Saddam Hussein very much – but especially in Great Britain, many Labour supporters are closely connected to the peace movement and against any form of pre-emptive war. And Tony Blair did clearly lie about the existence of WMDs in Iraq.
Yes, the election was not all about the war in Iraq. According to a Yougov poll, only 16 per cent of the voters identified Iraq as the most important issue in the election, as opposed to 32 per cent who cared about the economy. But Blair’s economic success has a dark side, too: The gap between the rich and the poor, for example, has widened significantly in the last eight years. Blair’s economic policy clearly comes with a price – and it is unclear if Labour supporters are willing to pay the bill in the long run.
At present, Labour backbenchers call for the resignation of Tony Blair rather sooner than later (remember: he just won an election, not lost it!) and undoubtedly he still has to recover from his bloody nose. The current unpopularity of Tony Blair might indeed lead to the end of “New” Labour and of the progressive government project. Even if Blair did not lose the election over the war in Iraq, he definitely lost the long-term trust in his idea of progressive governance.
Published in the York Union Society Newsletter, May 2005.