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Happy where his heart is
Blair is not and never has been Labour. Now his devotion to the market is turning a gap into a gulf
Roy Hattersley
Monday November 7, 2005
The Guardian

The railway metaphor was more appropriate than the prime minister seemed to realise - even though he was wrong to say that his critics hoped to "decouple him from the Labour party". No one has ever suggested that he is not loosely and temporarily attached to the vehicle on which he rode to power. The complaint is that he has made such violent changes in direction that it is no longer en route for its proper destination. In plain language Tony Blair is not, and never has been, Labour. He claimed to be during his search for a winnable seat, and now that he is fighting for his political life, he makes the claim again. In between, he barely said a good word about the party as it existed in the years before his leadership. New Labour was created to reject much of what real Labour stands for.
Only a couple of weeks ago Tony Blair told a specially invited Downing Street audience that throughout the 80s Labour had been kept out of office because it wanted to "level down". That allegation is as absurd as it is offensive. But plagiarising Tory abuse is not so serious an offence as adopting Tory policies. Last Friday, he again attempted to make backbench flesh creep with warnings that abandoning his "reform agenda" would lead to defeat. That is not only palpably untrue, it is also not a consideration that keeps him awake at night. His policies are on the right of the political spectrum because that is where his heart is. He has happily admitted it.
Socialism is either the doctrine of public ownership or the gospel of equality. The first Tony Blair (now) rightly rejects. The second he openly wants to replace with a commitment to meritocracy - the survival of the fittest at the expense of the less fortunate and less gifted. That proves his intellectual consistency. No prime minister since the second world war, including Margaret Thatcher, has believed so devoutly in the economic healing powers of the market. Meritocracy is a market in which human beings compete with each other for wealth and esteem. Markets always produce losers as well as winners.
The "choice agenda" requires competition for places in what are called "the best schools" and beds in the most efficient hospitals. Unless there is a surplus of secondary schools with small classes, highly qualified teachers and exemplary results, some parents will be forced to accept what others have rejected. The same rule of winners and losers will apply to hospitals. No genuine Labour leader would allow the self-confident and articulate section of society to elbow the disadvantaged and the dispossessed out of the public service queue.
Nor would a real social democrat lead an eight-year campaign to diminish civil liberties. The proposal to introduce 90-day detention without trial - which seems to have, at last, awakened a slumbering parliamentary Labour party - is only the latest example of the prime minister's reckless disregard for the rights of the citizen. Charles Clarke clearly wants to maintain the vestiges of progressive penal policy. But the way in which Blair attempted to veto compromise over the contentious clauses in the anti-terrorism bill confirms that he is struggling towards reason against the prime minister's wishes
It is not only policy positions that separate Tony Blair from Labour. He is equally alienated by his opinions of - indeed his instincts about - the party's place in politics. He is openly contemptuous of the trade unions and local government and has shown absolutely no respect - his word of the moment - for the party itself. Policy statements are made before the rank and file is allowed the privilege of discussing them. Despite his claim, it is the record, not his critics, that insists: "He does not much care about the Labour party and is going to do whatever he wants to do." Not one in 10 of the guests at the constituency annual dinner I spoke at last Friday would have argued otherwise.
They certainly feared that he is more concerned with his place in history than with the continuing success of the party he leads. On Friday, Blair made his position absolutely clear. A defeat at the next election, he said, would "not just be a defeat for Labour, but for me personally." Just for Labour? Not much doubt about which catastrophe he regards as most tragic. Someone ought to ask him which he prefers - defeat for a party remade in his image or victory for Labour after it regains its moral purpose.