Tim Fiskin’s blog’s a quite fun place to visit this January. He posted his thoughts about the difference between Girls Aloud and Carrie Bradshaw the other day (which prompted something of a spat with his co-blogger Rachel), and now he’s got some interesting things to say about the oft-drawn comparison between Tony Blair and the Grand Old Man:
Tony Blair invites (sometimes explicitly, all the bloody time implicitly) comparisons with Gladstone; but these comparisons only show what a bloody failure Blair and New Labour more generally are. What made Gladstonian Radicalism a success was his political modernism. He looked to the future for his political validation in the sense that his appeal was to a political subject to come; he rode the wave of social change that would later bring the Labour party into being and see off both Whigs and Radicals. New Labour is the precise opposite of this project. In the face of the exhaustion (and out-and-out destruction) of the traditional working-class political subject, New Labour has no idea what to do. It cannot see anything other than the precise details of the prevailing political constellation, and so can do nothing other than chase after whatever seems to be the most organised political block of the moment. Tony Blair’s repetition of Gladstone is an examplary piece of post-modernism, where “modernisation” means a subjectively directionless reorganisation, which, of course, ends up being objectively a reorganisation in capital’s interests. Unfortunately, for this reason, New Labour’s lack of a future may ensure that they remain the natural party of power for some time to come.
All of which reminds me of another debunking-of-a-comparison I rather enjoyed once upon a time, which was Ross McKibbin’s takedown of Mr Blair in the LRB, back in the days when he (TB, not RMcK) went around comparing himself to Asquith:
The Prime Minister is alleged to admire the old Liberal Party and to regret its demise. One wonders whether he knows anything about it, for its whole history was one of making enemies among the country’s élites, often deliberately. The Asquith Government, not normally deemed to be a failure, won the enmity of the House of Lords, the Army, the Protestant Irish, landowners, protectionists, the City, much of the Church of England and King George V. No Labour Government, not even Attlee’s, faced such a coalition. There was, of course, an unintended element to this; but it was the inevitable outcome of a strategy which originated with Gladstone and was continued by his successors: that you won elections by mobilising voters around pieces of large-scale legislation which benefited many, but which were also partisan and contentious. What was good for Mr Gladstone is good for Mr Blair – as I am sure he would be the first to admit. The Prime Minister is also said to admire Lady Thatcher, and Gladstone’s was exactly the same strategy as the one she followed. Followed, indeed, to the point of recklessness. But she did win three successive elections.
And despite the fact that all three of the main political parties are in a pisspoor state at the moment, so might he.