Opinion: LibDems are the natural home for Blairites

There have been some high profile (if not high level) Blairite defections to the Tories. While there are some similarities between the Blair legacy and our coalition partners, the defectees seem to have overlooked or discarded one idea – joining the Liberal Democrats.

As Jonathan Powell says in his book, The New Machiavelli, and as was evident during his time in office, Tony Blair was strongly pro-Europe. He understood, as we do, that a) the largest common market in the world is something that we should be actively engaging with and leading, and b) there are threats and issues facing this country that we cannot fight alone. Terrorism, climate change and (by definition) people trafficking do not stop at a nation’s borders.

Yes, the European Union needs reforming to make it more flexible in its reaction to fast moving events, as demonstrated by the never-ending economic crisis in southern Europe. However, the Conservative right wants to leave the EU, the Conservative centre has to throw some red meat to the Conservative right every so often (even if it’s putrefied, like that ‘veto’) and no one really knows where Labour are in all this.

The Liberal Democrats have free market proponents, educational and health reformers and classic liberals. We also have those that are committed to social justice and using the government as an instrument of change.

The party has people on the left, people on the right and people who subscribe to the third way anyway. The difference is that all of those people have a voice and it is of equal weight. Yes, David Cameron is the most centrist Tory leader there has been for a while. But what about after he goes? What if the party – dissatisfied with his abandonment of the right – go for a right winger? Would Blairites be joining the Tories if Liam Fox or David Davis had won the leadership contest? I doubt it.

Powell in his book, when offering advice in a Discourses style, would often begin the sentence with the phrase ‘A prudent prime minister would…’

A prudent Blairite would join the Liberal Democrats.

* Luke Tyson is Vice Chair of Basildon, Billericay and Thurrock Liberal Democrats

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30 Comments

  • Simon Titley 6th Feb '12 - 12:43pm

    Blairites would join the Liberal Democrats if they acknowledged that the Iraq War was wrong.

    Blairites would join the Liberal Democrats if they no longer wished to subordinate British foreign policy to that of the USA.

    Blairites would join the Liberal Democrats if they admitted that Fabian-style, centrally controlled public services are expensive, impersonal and inefficient, with the target culture, layers of bureaucracy and failed centralised IT systems.

    Blairites would join the Liberal Democrats if they rejected the assaults on civil liberties represented by ID cards and the database state.

    Blairites would join the Liberal Democrats if they admitted they were wrong to suck up to the City by deregulating the finance industry and laying the foundations for the present financial crisis.

    Blairites would join the Liberal Democrats if they acknowledged that, to be a true Keynesian, you should build up a surplus during the boom years instead of adding to the debt.

    Blairites would join the Liberal Democrats if they were prepared to pay more than lip service to the problem of climate change.

    Blairites would join the Liberal Democrats if they stopped obsessing with paranoid media management.

    So yes, you’re absolutely right.

  • ……………whereas the Lib Dems are the one party in the UK with a very clear sense of who we are and what we want to achieve, with our beliefs continually refreshed by internal debate and democracy. The Tories are welcome to all the Blairites……………

    I, once, thought so. Sadly, now, from the stance of LibDem MPs in this coalition, I know longer know where we stand on almost anything!

  • Excellent piece. Our time in the coalition should be used to broaden our supporter base and to take control of our natural home in the centre ground of politics. Sadly, it seems some would rather hand the next election to the Tories by wrestling with Labour for the left…

  • Blairites are members of the Labour Party, and few Labour party members would surrender their principles to the Tories.

    Besides, didn’t the lib dems campaign in the last election using a strategy designed to leach left wing votes from disillusioned labour supporters? It was a very successful strategy too, let down only by the lack of a proportional voting system. Perhaps the collapse in lib dem support since 2010 has been due to these left wing voters neither getting left wing policies nor voting reform?

  • Tony Dawson 6th Feb '12 - 2:25pm

    Blairites are possibly the lowest political creatures of the low. Without any philosophy, moral position or particular management competence. Obsessed with style over substance.

    One seriously hopes that the Lib Dems is not their ‘natural home’.

    Give me a Stalinist or a backwoods Tory over a Blairite any day. At least you now where you stand with such people.

  • Thanks for the comments everyone. I should make clear that I’m not calling for Tony Blair to join the Liberal Democrats. Just people who supported his reform agenda (which was curtailed by Brown) and European engagement (which was curtailed by, admittedly, him).

    @Simon Titley – There are plenty of reasons why anybody should not join any party. Some of the issues you mention are reasons for them not to join the Conservatives. And yet some have. I’m asking ‘why?’

    @wit and widsom – Give me principle-guided pragmatism over ideology any day.

    @Liberal Neil – I think it extends further than that…

    @ Geoffrey Payne – I’m not saying that we or, indeed, I agreed with them all along. More that they should find the Lib Dems are more suitable home that the Conservatives.

    @Z and Dave Page – I agree. We should be asking why centrists are joining the Conservatives and not us. To use David Miliband’s vernacular, while Labour in the opposition should not reach for Reassurance Labour, we in government should not reach for Reassurance Liberal Democrats.

  • Foregone Conclusion 6th Feb '12 - 2:41pm

    What Simon Titley said. We are a party of the liberal centre/centre-left, the Blairites were of the authoritarian centre/centre-right. Not really a good fit.

    As for why Blairites are jumping ship to the Tories – well, perhaps it’s because no career politician in their right minds would join us at the moment?

  • I have never met a single person who self describes as a Blairite. The term had currency when determining who amongst the Labour cabinet owed their position to Blair, and who to Brown but as those days are gone, so has the utility of the term.

  • The third way is a philosophically vacuous, meaningless concept – by not enshrining liberty, it opened itself up to Blair’s inherent illiberalism; it is as meaningless as right and left. On Europe you are right. But surely we can be happier with calling ourselves Liberals and Democrats?

  • Tony Greaves 6th Feb '12 - 4:19pm

    Enough here to tell them all why they would not be welcome! So no need for abuse. But if they try they will no doubt get some, We have a few such people already (too many).

    Tony Greaves

  • Richard Swales 6th Feb '12 - 8:48pm

    The question is, why and when did they leave the Labour party? I know one 1997 student-Blairite who left the Labour party around the middle of the last decade and joined the Tories a few years back. He would have agreed with Simon Titley on all those points I think, and I asked him on facebook why he had gone to the Tories not the Lib Dems (particularly as ID cards and target culture as government policy predate 1997), but I didn’t really get a proper answer. He may well pop up as next MP for Stone though and would be an improvement on the current one.

    If we are talking about people who left the Labour party in 2010 and are now joining the Tories, they are powerphiles; such people exist, although there are more powerphobes like people leaving the governing parties and joining Labour.

  • The Lib Dems dont need Blairites it needs Liberals. Too many Lib Dems just arent Liberals – they are just the same as Tories & Labour especially at local level. It makes my stomach turn as the Lib Dems are left behind in being the local champions & let the other parties stand up for local issues. Grumpy ex Lib Dem – but still Liberal.Now leaving it to others after 30 years active service….

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Feb '12 - 9:04pm

    I was Leader of the Opposition in the London Borough of Lewisham from 1998 to 2004. This was a flagship “New Labour” council. There were factions in the Labour Party there, and a small leftish rump of more traditonal Labour types, but the leading figures were Blairites, imagining thenselves as part of Blair’s revolution to change the Labour Party into …

    Well, one of their biggest things was to introduce the directly elected mayor system – they were so keen on the idea that they pushed the council as far as they could go in that direction even before the legislation to allow such a thing went through. As I have written many times, I believe the directly elected mayor system to be a mild form of fascism. Anyone who believes putting all power into the hands of one person is enhancing democracy is neither a liberal nor a democrat. The enthusiasm amongst Blairites in general for this thing is to me the clearest sign that they are neither liberals nor democrats.

    I raise this just as a particularly clear example. In general, the whole attitude and demeanour of these people offended my sense of liberalism and democracy. Day in and day out, while working with them, it reminded my why I was a Liberal Democrat. At the bleakest times of my membership of the party (which are most of them – I was a reluctant recruit when it started having opposed the merger, I have always felt our party is lions led by donkeys, I am saddened by the rightwards drift of our party which means while my politics has stood still I seem to have drifted from being fairly mainstrean to being way to its left, and as for the leadership now – well, I have said enough elsewhere) I need only have a bit of contact with Labour Party Blairites to dispell any dark “what the hell am I doing here, I might as well join the Labour party” feelings and make sure the LibDem membership card which I am about to rip up is tucked saftely back into my wallet.

    In short – NO, NO, NO!

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Feb '12 - 9:13pm

    Richard Swales

    I asked him on facebook why he had gone to the Tories not the Lib Dems (particularly as ID cards and target culture as government policy predate 1997), but I didn’t really get a proper answer. He may well pop up as next MP for Stone

    I think you have answered your own question here.

  • paul barker 6th Feb '12 - 9:16pm

    Labour is dying, riddled with factionalism, semi-bankrupt & a rapidly falling membership. Most of its 180,000 members are decent people & most will end up lost to active Politics altogether.
    Some of those Labour members will come to us & we should welcome them all whatever they said & did inthe past. People can learn & change – we, of all people should beleive that.
    As to why a “lot” of the recent defections have gone to the Tories, most have come from the Right fringe of Labour & were always closer to Conservative thinking.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Feb '12 - 9:29pm

    Luke Tyson

    We should be asking why centrists are joining the Conservatives and not us.

    In order to avoid being accused of demonstrating Godwin’s law, I shall not put all I am thinking into words here. However, I think you will find those to whom I am alluding by this were “centrists” in economic terms, and those seem to be teh main terms for establishing the left-right spectrum these days.

    Oh, and by the way:

    David Cameron is the most centrist Tory leader there has been for a while.

    If the policies his government is pushing through now were proposed by a Tory at any time in the 1970s or 1980s, they would have been regarded as “loony right”. Cameron’s “centrism” amounts to a softening of some of the old style “hang ’em and flog ’em” Conservatism and an abandonment of the remaining “Queen and country” aspects of Conservatism, which are no longer central to the party’s main goal – which is the support of the international financial elite in their plans to make our country a colony of theirs rather than a democracy of the British people. It is nice for him that he has been able to present this dropping of what are now very fringe aspects of his party as in some way a move to the “centre” while his central thrust has been to drive it ever more rightwards, and of course he is supprted in this by the right-wing press, as they share this goal of his.

    Luke, why oh why are you doing this? You see to have swallowed whole and believed the main propaganda thrusts of BOTH the other two main parties in recent years.

  • Blairites or Blair voters?

    It seems to me that someone needs to make the distinction between those that believed in the authoritarian nature of the Blair reality, and those who bought into the changes promised by Blair in 1997 and 2001.

    It would seem to me any party claiming to hold liberal values would be a poor fit for the former but could be a good fit for the latter..

  • David Allen 7th Feb '12 - 12:04am

    Blairites always believed in gaining power by bowing downto the powerful, and that now makes them naturals for the pro-coalition Lib Dems. On the other hand, Blairites always believed in supporting a winning team. That doesn’t make them quite such a good fit.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Feb '12 - 10:39am

    Simon Banks, I agree with you that many of the leading “Blairite” figures have a hard socialist left background, and seem to have migrated to the economic right while keeping the worst aspects of that background. In particular, it;s the idea that The Party is the guiding force, that The Party must find a way of seizing and keeping power never mind how or whether it has real popular support, and that The Party is primarly the small group of enlightened people at its top.

    However, I disagree with you on the SDP. When it was founded, it was very much on the socialist line of political party, very much about The Party being the tool of its enlightened leaders. It wanted to be Labour Party Mark II. If it had succeeded in this aim, it would have been Blairism 10 years earlier. We only forget this because in months it failed in this aim – its mark of failure being when it started arguing with the Liberals about having a fair share of “winnable seats” i.e. those the Liberal Party had by its efforts built up as winnable. This was an admission that it was not going to attract the bulk of Labour supporters or even primarily former Labour voters.

    Most of those who joined the SDP at the bottom were naive – they did not consciously join it through agreeing with its model of political party, but because this was the model of political party which was, as it still is, presented in the press as how political parties are, they just assumed it was how it should be. We shold beware of the idea that liberalism is just about civil liberties issues. This fits in with what I said previously about Cameron’s Conservative Party – just because it has dropped some old-style small-c conservatism does not mean it has become more “centrist” in economic terms.

  • Richard Shaw 7th Feb '12 - 1:06pm

    As has been mentioned by earlier posters this post touches upon the subject of how to win supporters from other parties.

    I think it may be useful for future campaigns, whether local or national, to produce a series of “Why should a previously [insert party here] supporter vote for the Liberal Democrats?” publications. These should outline similarities and differences, and why those similarities/differences might make the LibDems a better choice than other parties. Think of “Vote Match” (http://www.votematch.org.uk/) but written from the perspective of an LibDem trying to convince someone who came out 76% Green and 64% LibDem to vote/support/join the LibDems instead.

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