Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


The secret, despairing Blairite majority

As The Master said, the deficit is not about right versus left but right versus wrong

The party with a clear majority in the House of Commons is the Blairites. The leader in exile was in America last week for the opening of the George W Bush Library, commenting wistfully that "you had five presidents, including President Obama, and all behaving with a sort of graciousness and a civility toward each other that I thought was fantastic". In other words, not the sort of thing he enjoys in Britain, a country divided and grudging over the £3.6m cost to the taxpayer of a funeral for a long-serving prime minister.

While he still smarts at the ingratitude of a country whose people, as he often gently reminds us, never voted him out, his party could still be in government if only it could find someone to lead it.

The Blairite majority is the best-kept secret at Westminster, because so many of its members keep their allegiance hidden. Most Labour MPs, obviously, are Blairites. This should not be a controversial statement: 53 per cent of them voted for David Miliband in the leadership election. Since then, none has woken up one morning and decided that he or she made the wrong choice, as far as I know.

David's departure from the Commons has had a strange delayed effect: both entirely predictable and yet unexpectedly clarifying. Several Labour MPs express their despair to me privately. "The best mind of his generation," one said. Where Len McCluskey, the unreconstructed leader of the Unite union, sees a Blairite conspiracy to keep Ed Miliband under house arrest, they see – well, nothing.

No one thought that David Miliband was likely to succeed his brother as Labour leader, but while he was still in the Commons he was a symbol of hope. Now the Labour Blairites have to come to terms with having to fight an election in two years' time on a Brownite platform. Again. Many of them tell me privately that they don't like it; that they don't think that Labour can win under Ed Miliband. But "there is no one else", and so they carry on, loyal in public and hoping that, if they should end up in government through Tory incompetence, there will be enough Blairite ministers to avoid disaster.

Most Conservative MPs are Blairites, too, although it is harder to quantify them. More of them are open about their admiration of The Master. David Cameron and George Osborne's respect is well known, although not often expressed. Michael Gove is the member of the Cabinet most effusive in his attempts to embarrass Labour by embracing its cast-off.

Many more Tories are ambivalent. At the 90th anniversary celebration last week of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers (as pedants know, the Committee was actually founded in 1923), I greeted every Tory MP as my "fellow Blairite". Most accepted the label, often with enthusiasm. Although Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, who has interviewed Tony Blair for his book about national security, looked as if he would rather I described the former prime minister as a Foxite.

A few protested. They have, after all, spent most of the past two decades fighting Blair. Some are long- pickled Eurosceptics or right-wingers who detected no hyperbole in The Sun's calling him "the most dangerous man in Britain". But a surprising number are, especially in private, in awe of him.

Oddly, Liberal Democrat MPs are least likely to belong to the hidden majority. You may think they are a centre party but, apart from David Laws and Jeremy Browne, they tend to the anti-Blairite left.

So far, the most effective Blairite leader since 2007 has been David Cameron. He is not a true Blairite, of course. He is too much of a deep Oxfordshire Conservative for that. He came to Blairism as a means to an end, namely that of making life difficult for the Labour Party. And he has disappointed as a Blairite in government, allowing Andrew Lansley to make a mess of NHS reform and Iain Duncan Smith to design another "grand plan", for welfare, that is likely to go wrong.

But Ed Miliband has disappointed even more on these subjects in opposition. It was notable that, having taken refuge in the usually safe subject for Labour of the NHS at PMQs last week, he "lost" the exchange simply because Cameron mentioned Stafford Hospital. On welfare, the Government is imposing a cap on benefits at the level of average earnings. This is a Blairite policy, and Labour opposes it.

The Blairite party's policies, as well as choice-driven public service reform, include being on the side of the public on crime, immigration and national security.

The Blairites have no view about the deficit, strangely enough. As the Master said, that is a matter not of right versus left but of right versus wrong. And if the economy is growing by more than 2 per cent growth at the time of the election, the failure of Osborne's policy in the first half of this parliament may not seem so obvious.

I am not saying that David Miliband's departure leaves a hole in British politics, but there is a great empty space where Blairite leadership could be, which is more of a problem for Ed Miliband than it is for the Prime Minister.

twitter.com/@JohnRentoul; independent.co.uk/johnrentoul