"... the first bruises in the New Labour
machine came not through economic misjudgements, as many conservatives thought,
but through the one area that New
Labour could claim clear blue water
between the parties, that of sleaze. The Bernie Ecclestone affair proved to the
country that, far from being whiter than white, New Labour had its chinks.
Indeed these chinks widened and grew over the period of the first parliament
into full blown fissures. The public reaction was not anger, nor electoral
punishment through bye-elections, but through utter and destructive cynicism.
The 3rd way was supposed to be a new dawn for politics, a shining beacon that
pieced and dissipated conservatism. Now the electorate, through Keith Vaz, Peter
Mandelson (twice), Ecclestone, the Hinduja brothers, the Dome and Geoffrey
Robinson became so utterly and imperviously turned off by politics. Politicians
were seen as sleazy, untrustworthy, arrogant and non-representative. Labour had,
through its association with sleaze, managed a historic feat, to destroy the
sacred trust the state had with its elected leaders.
2001 was fought
not on issues, but by personality. Blair, despite the huge failure of his
government to modernise and reform the public services as promised in the 1997
Labour manifesto (indeed Labour spent less money on the NHS in its fist term of
office than any previous administration in the services history!) still
retained a great affection from the British public. William Hague, the Tory
challenger, did not. In a historically low turnout, Blair was returned to Number
10, his majority only fractionally dented. Cynicism, it seemed, and apathy won
the day in 2001.
Today New Labour is in real trouble. In a frantic
attempt to rationalise their agenda, the party that once condemned conservatism
has been forced to embrace its militaristic instincts. The old left in the
Labour party are getting confident, questioning Blair and his 3rd way in public
as well as behind closed doors. The most recent example, the Weapons of Mass
Destruction debacle has only served to highlight the incredible divide between
the New Labour administration and their old Labour backbenchers.
the old strengths of this 3rd way news machine is faltering. The architect of
New Labour's prominent tabloid support, Alistair Campbell, is under heavy fire.
His 'dodgy dossier' is being seen by many in the media world of New Labour's
final descent into apparent arrogance and patronising complacency. Some may
venture the argument that what befell John Majors Conservatives is stalking
Blair, and a government may be about to fall because of its arrogant belief
that no-one can beat them.
It seems in this time of constitutional black
water the Conservatives may well be pulling their socks up. In an attempt to
recapture the lost millions of 1992 Iain Duncan Smith has pushed his party into
new territory. Tory MPs now champion the vulnerable. Compassionate
conservatism, so successfully employed by George W. Bush in America is seemingly
on its way to these shores. Public services, such as the NHS, have become new
Tory battlegrounds. Gone are the days when Labour commanded an absolute
authority on the provision of education. The Conservatives, with their
commitment to abolish tuition fees and promotion of increasing education
expenditure have quite effectively married centralist policy with traditional
Tory rhetoric of choice, opportunity for all and a reduction of state
interference and bureaucracy.
On asylum they have achieved a notable
feat of being seen to be tough with illegal asylum seekers whilst at the same
time appealing to those 3rd and 4th generation immigrants with an almost leftist
agenda. The flamboyant has been replaced with the measured, opportunism is out
and a remarkable form of liberal pragmatism is in. Conservatives are reaching
out, Tory-ism is becoming one nation again.
But will all this oratory
and pontificating defeat the third way? Indeed how do we express this new
Conservative approach on the political spectrum? The answers to both these
questions are comparatively simple. IDSs conservatism is neither dogmatic nor
is it ideological. It is, essentially, what John Major tried to achieve in his
premiership. The old buzzwords of opportunity for all and classless,
ideology-less, society are creeping back into Tory thinking.
working too. Opinion polls now show Tory support exceeding Labours for the
first time in over a decade (minus the small blip during the fuel crisis of
2000). The middle classes, so sought after by New Labour in the 90s are finally
being squeezed out by the third way. Blair-ism was all about masking
deficiencies and heavily marketing relative success. The British public are
starting to see this and, as the middle classes make their inevitable sojourn
back to the Tories, IDS may begin to accomplish what Blair achieved in 1997,
appealing to the core constituency of their opponent. The black and gay
community is welcoming Oliver Letwin; Damien Green has been enthusiastically
supported by students and lecturers and Dr Liam Fox has had praise heaped upon
him by the health sector unions. Contrast that to the slow hand claps and snubs
for seen for Labour Ministers and you have a truly remarkable illustration of a
remarkable political re-alignment.
The next Tory government may not come
at the next general election, but the end of New Labour and its third way most
probably will. A much reduced Labour majority and, perhaps, a lower share of the
vote than the Tories could see Blair either resign or be challenged. Should this
happen old Labour will seize the leadership. Whether it is Brown, John Reid or
Robin Cook; New Labour will disappear.
If this does happen perhaps the
re-alignment of politics many have predicted will occur. Perhaps, just perhaps,
we may see a return to the old-fashioned ideological and philosophically
divisive politics of left versus right. Perhaps this will see the end to the
cynicism the electorate feels towards politicians. If this is to be the future
than the third way may suffer its ultimate failure, the reintegration of
politics with the public and a renewed interest in parliament. Indeed in many
years to come the New Labour project may well be exposed for what it certainly
appears to be in the eyes of conservative commentators, a fraud glued together
by spin doctors and selective accountability.