Son of Thatcher hails a land fit for spivs in Mondeos

Damn Tony Blair, writes A N Wilson. He is completing the destruction of a once decent society
Click to follow
The Independent Online
SO THAT'S clear, then. The Thatcherite Dream continues. Just in case there was any member of the Labour Party who thought that Tony Blair and the modernisers were just pretending to be Thatcherite in order to win elections, the Prime Minister has spelt it out. In a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research, he proclaimed the continuation of a meritocracy.

"Power for the citizen against the State," he said. "A middle class that will include millions of people who see themselves as working class but whose ambitions are far broader than those of their parents and their grandparents." This government has a 10-year programme. "At the end of it," said Tony, "I believe we will have an expanded middle class with ladders of opportunity for those from all backgrounds." There have been some predictable reactions to the Prime Minister's speech. New Labour is the party of Woking Man, not the Working Man. The natural Blairites are, we are told, aspirational home-owners, Mondeo-drivers, package holiday- makers. Reporters have been sent off to Woking, and come back with the vox pop quotes from twenty-somethings who say they are going to vote Labour again at the next election.

They won't vote Labour because they believe in a fairer or more just society. They won't vote Labour because they believe that the rich should pay more taxes to help to finance hospitals or schools or old-age pensions or student grants. They'll vote Labour because Labour won't buck the market. Since the modernisers of the Labour Party wanted, more than anything, to be elected, and then to be re-elected, it is perhaps not surprising that they should have imitated the language and ideology of the Lady who won three elections in a row. What hell for the rest of us.

Two images stand out in my mind whenever I think of that Lady and her vision of Britain. One was of the M25. It had been built at enormous cost. It had ploughed up the few bits of greensward within a small distance of London. And it was so crammed with Sierras and Mondeos that there were traffic jams in both directions every rush hour. When asked about it, Thatcher said, "I can't stand people complaining about the M25. It's unpatriotic not to like the M25."

The other image I have in my mind is of her visiting the North East at a time of dire unemployment. All the industries which made the region great - its shipbuilding and its mining - were sad memories. It had only its beauty left, and that had been marred by Poulson and the shyster architects. In Thatch's time, grotesquely, they built the then-largest shopping mall in England at Gateshead. She went to open it. A great achievement, she believed.

The two noble political traditions of England - Toryism and Socialism - were spat upon and defiled by that woman. Thatch waged war on all the institutions valued by the Tories - local government, the universities, the Bar, the Church of England. She hated them. Tony finishes her work by abolishing the House of Lords and showing the same contempt for the Commons.

The other noble tradition - the socialism of William Morris, Eleanor Marx and (in some ways) Ruskin - saw infinite dignity in every life, regardless of class or wealth. Those drawn to this way of thinking did not deem the money-grubbing, thrusting, aspirational petty-bourgeoisie (what's now called the middle class) to be the ideal role-model. If you were a craftsman, a carpenter, a potter, a skilled iron-worker, an agricultural labourer, you were not made to feel inferior because you could not afford the same luxuries as the vulgar stock-jobber or businessman. Equally, those who through no fault of their own fell into poverty deserved the support, not of charity, but of that state, whose well-being helped to enrich the rich, quite as much as it drew benefit from them. It was only just, as the spiritual heirs of Mill, and the Webbs, and TH Green were to make clear, that the rich should pay more tax to help the underprivileged.

Apolitical by temperament, I rejoiced in both these noble traditions. There were low elements in both political parties, of course. But au fond, one felt that a serious, truthful, and dignified political debate was going on. The institutions (and these included the landed classes with their estates) did, by paradox, help to preserve the liberties of every Englishman. The Left, which wished to fill the hungry with Good Things, and to put down the Mighty from their seats, did not think that a dignified human life was to be satisfied by the unchecked greed of the capitalist dream.

Thatcherism - what Peregrine Worsthorne memorably called bourgeois triumphalism - was always the triumphalism of the petty bourgeois. It was always rancorous, tinged with class envy, and poi- soned by avarice. That was what made the atmosphere of the Thatcher years so very unpleasant, and it was what made many of us (perhaps we were deluding ourselves) like nice Mr Major with his allusions to an Orwellian vision of warm beer and old ladies cycling to Holy Communion.

We see very clearly the kind of aspirations which the Blairs have. When Tony boasts of his own humble origins, it is not to express sympathy with those who have failed to make it. Rather, it is to show what, with enough push and ambition, you too could become, even if your gran lives above an ironmonger's shop in Ballymeena. Even if your dad is a Scouse git, you too can one day, if you press the right buttons and make enough money, wear designer dresses, travel with your own hair-dresser and have holidays which cost pounds 30,000.

This is the kind of world the Blairs are inviting us to live in, to perpetuate for the next 10 years. There's nothing anomalous about Blair's cultivating Formula One racing millionaires, gangster-style newspaper proprietors, spiv businessmen. In the days of One Nation Toryism Ted Heath could call such people the unacceptable face of capitalism. Blair, like Thatcher, does not think that capitalism has an unacceptable face. Cynically and coldly, the Prime Minister believes that if it can be manipulated with sufficient aplomb; the culture which is taught to devalue its past will learn to thank its politicians for all the blessings of this life. Socialism wanted to put a check on capitalism because it crushes those at the bottom of the heap. Old Toryism shared some of this fear, and also wanted to keep Old Money in power. Both these forces in Britain, so different, saw that Murdoch-like spectres could gobble up and ruin the whole society. That is what Mr Merdle does in Little Dorrit. Blair woos Woking Man with cheap holidays, low interest rates, endless telly channels. In return, he puts the Murdochs into positions of absolute power and brings into being a sub-American world in which everything is wrecked - the past, the natural world, our sense of decency. That was what Blair was trumpeting to the Institute for Public Policy Research. That was what he meant by sweeping away the old establishment in favour of a "meritocratic" middle class.