LEADING ARTICLE : Neither beer nor bromides

Share
Related Topics
The unkind remarks made by the Prime Minister about Tony Blair over the weekend are the sort of tribute that the uncharismatic often make to the genuinely popular. John Major, like the American schoolgirl who sees her pretty rival easily voted Prom Queen, grumbles to the few still willing to listen about the shallowness, lack of principles and deceitfulness of his adversary. "Tsk," says Michael Heseltine. "You're so right," adds Jeremy Hanley, "t'ain't fair."

Almost everybody else knows that Mr Blair is proving to be a formidable and attractive politician. Far from being "unprincipled", he is clearly a man who harbours strong views and is prepared to fight for them. His handling of the Clause IV battle has been an example of political leadership.

The clause itself represented many of Labour's backward-looking tendencies. A piece of secular mysticism, infused with nostalgia, it acted as a justification for Labour's tendency to favour producers rather than consumers, laying emphasis on the worker, not the citizen. It is little wonder that those unions with most members in the public sector ended up supporting its retention. Their defeat is not bad news for workers, but it is excellent news for citizens - as is the manner of Mr Blair's victory.

With the largest trade unions against him, he took his campaign to the individual party member in a way unprecedented within the two leading parties. He won, and won handsomely. As result, he has energised Labour's grass-roots and identified them with his cause. Yesterday, in his emotional second address to the special conference, his most significant promise was that this type of consultation and campaigning would become the hallmark of his leadership style. For Labour, Blairism should mean goodbye to the block vote, the smoke-filled room, the caucus and the stitch-up; so long as beer and sandwiches are not replaced by bromides and market research.

But what might it mean for Britain? So far, the evidence is hard to find. The lineaments of New Labour are still emerging painfully slowly from the fogs of perpetual review and the mists of news-management. But there are tests by which we should judge Mr Blair's progress.

After a decade and a half of Conservative government, a Blair administration would have plenty to do that the Tories have left undone. Our political and judicial institutions are antique and need an overhaul. We expect priority to be given to reforming Parliament, a Bill of Rights and discussion of electoral reform.

On the economic front, Labour has work to do in reforming the monopolies legislation to create more competition, strengthening the role of regulators for the utilities and curbing abuses in the City. Labour should also be able to tackle a training crusade. In Europe, Mr Blair must seek constructive engagement and offer the country its first taste of leadership for more than a decade.

But New Labour has some difficult terrain to cross. It has to appropriate parts of the Thatcher legacy that it fought against tooth and nail - and where it was wrong. Mr Blair cannot and should not enter the next election pledged to undo the health service reforms of the past five years. Whatever their problems, the internal market and GP fundholding have improved the efficiency of the NHS. New Labour must also endorse the benefits to the consumer of privatisation, whatever its reservations about the excesses of unwise and greedy executives. In education, Labour must embrace league tables, parent power, school autonomy and radical ideas for improving teaching standards.

Every step of the way, Mr Blair will hear siren calls wafted on the wind. These will remind him how difficult it will be to satisfy the party. They will contrast him unfavourably with his predecessor, who rarely confronted colleagues. Appeal will be made to the traditions of the party. Distressed nurses, teachers and train-drivers will write to newspapers asking what has happened to Labour and why is it treating them like this? If he is the leader that we believe him to be, Mr Blair will listen politely - and then get on with what he knows he has to do.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness