Say 'Keynes' if you are opposed to Blair

Related Topics
ONE OF the mistakes people make about Mr Tony Blair is to look at his face rather than attend to his language. This is why, in an age dominated by television, he has so far been such a successful politician. His response to the resignations of Mr Peter Mandelson, Mr Geoffrey Robinson and Mr Charlie Whelan has been one of truculence mitigated by insouciance.

Several observers have recalled Lord Callaghan saying "Crisis? What crisis?" in January 1979 when he returned home from the Guadaloupe summit to a country where it seemed that civil society was on the verge of breaking down, if it had not broken down already. As some of us mature students of politics know, Jim did not say this. It was the headline in the Sun over a story that included the following exchange at London airport:

Journalist: "What ... of the mounting chaos in the country at the moment?"

Callaghan: "I don't think that other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos."

In January 1979 the bodies remained unburied owing to the activities of unions such as Nasty and Thuggo. Twenty years later the bodies are in refrigerator lorries rather than in hospital mortuaries on account of ... well, it is difficult to say precisely, but it is certainly something Mr Blair promised to rectify before the last election. As the manifesto puts it: "We will save the NHS." Oddly enough, the observers of whom I speak have drawn the parallel with Lord Callaghan's supposed words rather than with the state of the nation when he too returned to these shores from climes as sunny as those recently enjoyed by Mr Blair.

I take no objection to his having a nice holiday with his family. Nor do I think he was guilty of a sin against the Holy Ghost in delivering his children back to school a day late. Why he and his wife chose that particular school in the first place perplexed a schoolmaster friend of mine who teaches at an independent London boys' school. It was, he considered, "much too disciplined". Admittedly the Blairs had been landed in trouble by Mr David Blunkett, who had made a great song and dance about the responsibility of parents for their children's absences, when he would have been better advised to leave this sort of thing to the schools and instead to concentrate his mind on larger and more general questions.

But the public - by which of course I mean the papers' - response to the holiday and the little Blairs' late arrival was very similar to the response to Mr Mandelson's resignation. It was not one of true puritanism, which believes in the supremacy of the Scriptures and in the possibility of personal communication with the Almighty. It was rather one of what has come to be called puritanism: envious, grudging, it's-all-right-for- some puritanism, displayed daily in different ways in the columns of both the Guardian and the Daily Mail, obsessed as it is by the value of people's houses.

The parallel is not so much with James Callaghan in January 1979 as with Harold Macmillan in January 1958. Peter Thorneycroft, the Chancellor, and his two junior Treasury ministers, Enoch Powell and Nigel Birch, resigned over Macmillan's indulgent attitude towards public expenditure. Macmillan called their departure "these little local difficulties", much as Mr Blair refers to his own ministerial resignations today. Mr Whelan, though not a minister, was more important to journalists than most real ones. What I should like to know, however, is this: having exposed wrongdoing, why is the leaker of Mr Mandelson's loan, whoever he may have been, not hailed as a constitutional hero rather than reprehended as a party traitor?

Afterwards the parallel breaks down rather. Thorneycroft, Powell and Birch were early supporters of Mr Blair, and of Mr Gordon Brown as well. Indeed, Mr Brown is, in theory anyway, as stern an upholder of financial rectitude as Mr Blair, if not more so. This is where the popular picture - of a Mr Blair supported by a now departed Mr Mandelson against a Mr Brown supported by an also departed Mr Whelan - becomes blurred.

Mr John Prescott, certainly, does not agree with them. He is called a self-confessed Keynesian in rather the same way as someone else might be described as a self-confessed child molester. Brendan Bracken, the confidant of Winston Churchill and Minister of Information in the war, once called the Cambridge economist "the man who made inflation respectable". In fact J M Keynes was highly conscious of inflation and of its adverse consequences for what he called "the rentier class".

Still, one sees what Bracken meant. Keynes is now being used much as Disraeli was used in the Conservative Party of 1979-81, before the Expulsion of the Wets. Then Disraeli was a code-word for being opposed to Mrs Thatcher: today Keynes is a code-word for being opposed to Mr Blair.

The great economist would almost certainly be amused if he knew he had been taken up by Old Labour. For his entire life he was not only a liberal with a small "l" but an active member of the Liberal Party. Though he was approached several times, he refused to join Labour because of its attachment to the trade unions and its basis in the working class. He would have been a most welcome addition to Mr Blair's New Labour.

Mr Blair says that he proposes to go on as he started, with, as he or somebody else at No 10 wrote in Friday's Independent: "Resolve, determination, real grip and a sense of purpose and direction. That is what New Labour offers. That is what I offer. Strong leadership. Real leadership. Leadership the country wants and deserves. Hot air. Sentences without verbs."

The most significant thing Mr Blair has said in the post-resignations period is that the Government was elected as New Labour and intended to carry on as such. Hugh Gaitskell wanted to abolish Clause IV after the 1959 defeat and failed. Mr Blair succeeded. Gaitskell, contrary to the received view today, did not want to change the name. His more spirited ally Douglas Jay did, but not to lose "Labour" completely. Jay suggested "Labour and Radical" or "Labour and Reform". Mr Blair, or somebody else, hit on "New Labour". Whether the party is legally now "New Labour" rather than "Labour" is more doubtful. In view of recent oppressive legislation on the labelling of election candidates, it may turn out to be important. One of the most misleading lines Shakespeare ever wrote was that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Names possess a power of their own. Elizabeth David would not have exerted such a seminal influence as a cookery writer if she had been called Sharon Snooks.

Mr Blair has not only changed the name. He has changed, or is trying to change, the party as well. Gaitskell, Jay and Anthony Crosland - regarded by some as John the Baptist figures - believed in Keynes as an economic guide, in public control of the economy, in national enterprise and in equality. New Labour has dropped all four. Instead the manifesto promised constitutional reform and the rehabilitation of education and the health service. The last promise certainly looks as if it will remain unfulfilled.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Chef

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Chef is required to join one of the largest ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

Read Next
There are around 250 species of bumblebee in the world  

If you want to rumble a bumblebee, now’s your chance

Michael McCarthy

Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred

Simon Danczuk
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor