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Fascinating article by Tony Blair on the future of progressive politics in UK

Mike McCartney

18th May 2021

Really useful illustration of how political theory shapes party politics

It is a common error when looking at political ideologies that a particular theory is only associated with a party that bears the name. Here, for example, that liberal theory is only relevant to considering the Liberal Democrats.

Here is an article by a former PM that gets to the heart of the debate about the direction the party he used to lead will take. Elections are won or lost in the centre, and for that reason veering too far to the left can be considered as sleepwalking towards inevitable electoral annihilation. In the article we can see the shadow of strands of liberal theory. There is a taste of the idea of less state intervention, which is classic liberalism and then Neo-liberal theory advocated by the likes of Robert Nozick. But it tends more towards more state intervention along the lines of an 'enabling' state providing equality of opportunity rather than the socialist doctrine of equality of outcome. I take this to be Blair advocating some sort of a new 'third way' in politics, i.e. he wants to see a new type of politics ready to respond the challenges posed by technological change, i.e that robotification will lead us into a new industrial revolution that will fundamentally change how we live and work.

"The progressive problem is that, in an era where people want change in a changing world, and a fairer, better and more prosperous future, the radical progressives aren’t sensible and the sensible aren’t radical. The choice is therefore between those who fail to inspire hope and those who inspire as much fear as hope. So, the running is made by the new radical left, with the “moderates” dragged along behind, uncomfortably mouthing a watered-down version of the left’s policies while occasionally trying to dig in their heels to stop further sliding towards the alienation of the centre.

The result is that today progressive politics has an old-fashioned economic message of Big State, tax and spend which, other than the spending part (which the right can do anyway), is not particularly attractive. This is combined with a new-fashioned social/cultural message around extreme identity and anti-police politics which, for large swathes of people, is voter-repellent. “Defund the police” may be the left’s most damaging political slogan since “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. It leaves the right with an economic message which seems more practical, and a powerful cultural message around defending flag, family and fireside traditional values. To top it off, the right evinces a pride in their nation, while parts of the left seem embarrassed by the very notion."

Read the article in full here:

There has been a lot of navel gazing inside the Labour Party as to why they performed so badly at the ballot box in election 2021.

This article in the New Statesman is an attempt in the aftermath of the elections to lay out a path forward. You might disagree with what Blair says, but it is well worth considering what he has to say. Especially, it has to be said, if you as a student are serious about applying for a Politics related course at university. The New Statesman may not be your cup of tea, but demonstrating that you are interested in articles of this kind is, I am pretty confident, core to an impressive personal statement.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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