Despite 13 years of Tory rule, Britain remains trapped in a dysfunctional paradigm shaped by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They transformed Britain far more comprehensively than almost anybody realised at the time, empowered a nomenklatura of lawyers, bureaucrats and cultural propagandists committed to entrenching their revolution, and succeeded in bamboozling Tory wets into believing that their brand of technocratic social-democracy was the only morally acceptable way to govern.
The fashionable attempts at rehabilitating Blair are absurd. The Left has been a disaster whenever it has been in office, and would be so again if it wins next year. The moribund NHS, probably the worst health system in the Western world, and our inane, anti-housebuilding planning system, were dreamt up by Old Labour. Woke, neo-Marcusian ideology was first promoted by Labour governments, starting in the 1960s. Most of the other pathologies plaguing Britain can be traced to New Labour, though the Tories are now just as much to blame: instead of fixing the problems they inherited, they made them worse, out of cowardice and incompetence. Tory MPs have been in office, but Labour ideas have been in power.
Take our weak economic growth, dragged down by tax, regulation, a destructive monetary policy and insufficient investment: the slowdown began in 2005, even before the financial crisis, but the Tories have pushed more of the same anti-free market policies. Or consider the problems created by defective, one-sided devolution, from Ulez and handouts from England to the SNP to 20mph speed limits in Wales and the uselessness of the Met Police: Blair is to blame, but the Tories have extended his framework.
The Human Rights Act, the rise of lawfare and the quangoisation of decision-making, which has spawned monsters such as the Climate Change Committee, our complex and punitive tax system, our bloated, mismanaged, wasteful state, the broken approach to immigration, the growing dependency on government for jobs, incomes and lifestyles, the top-down environmental dogmatism that threatens to ruin the lives of millions, our over-extended university system: all of these originated under New Labour and were built upon by clueless Conservatives.
In a shocking case of political Stockholm Syndrome, many leading Tories turned out to be Blairites or even Brownites in disguise, in awe of their political achievements, obsessed with triangulation, terrified of being seen as conservative and ashamed of the views of their long-suffering electorate.
In the rare cases where David Cameron and George Osborne sought to break with Labour, they picked the wrong battles: austerity turned out to be a reversible damp squib. The state was salami-sliced, rather than reengineered and privatised, and in some cases the wrong projects were cut. Theresa May was to the Left of Blair, and Boris Johnson turned out to be a tax-and-spend social democrat and net zero radical who couldn’t even successfully oppose endless lockdowns.
Brexit was the greatest wasted opportunity of all: it was the ultimate thumbs down to the Blair project, a grassroots revolution against the failed cross-party consensus, a repudiation of much of what Blair, Brown, Cameron and Osborne stood for. Yet it was largely neutered by foot-dragging Tories and, after he finally extracted us from the EU, by Johnson’s unwillingness to drastically remake our economy, welfare state and machinery of state. His successor, Liz Truss, a woman genuinely committed to breaking with the Blairite orthodoxy, was immediately destroyed by it.
Yet there is a glimmer of hope again. Rishi Sunak started off poorly but appears to have had a change of heart. His first radical intervention, in defiance of the spirit of devolution, was when he torpedoed Nicola Sturgeon’s awful plan to allow gender self-recognition. He then pledged to reverse the assault on cars, including Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, a centre-piece of the technocratic consensus. The real fightback started earlier this month when he watered down many of the more extreme net zero proposals, until now a taboo subject, before signing off on more North Sea oil. These were all excellent moves.
Sunak may now go to war against HS2, perhaps the ultimate neo-Blairite folly. This hideously expensive TGV wannabe was first mooted by Labour in 2009, when the original state-owned company was created. It was backed by the arch-Blairite Andrew Adonis before being embraced enthusiastically by Cameron and Osborne. Like arbitrary foreign aid targets, HS2 is a symbol of our ruling class’ constructivist ideology, a totemic project that mixes pseudo-greenery, bureaucratic empowerment and EU-envy, hence the elites’ disproportionate fury at the prospect of its demise. Sunak must stand firm: he would be right to scrap it.
Immigration is his next big rejection of the neo-Blairite consensus: he allowed Suella Braverman to deliver a well-argued critique of unrealistic refugee conventions, and to make a case for nation states, against open borders and for the integration of migrants. This is a position supported by the vast majority in every European nation – Emmanuel Macron has just said that France “cannot welcome all the misery of the world” – and yet it was met by hysteria and quasi-racist attacks on the Home Secretary, who was effectively lectured that ethnic minority Britons cannot morally support restrictions on immigration. We shall see how Sunak responds to the legal verdict on his Rwanda plan: will he disavow the European Convention on Human Rights?
Let’s hope so, for whenever he takes aim at the Blair-Brown-establishment project, his polling goes up; when he succumbs to the technocratic status quo, it slumps. The Tory party’s central problem since the mid 2000s is that it has proved unable to decide what it truly is. Is it a New Labour remake, selecting proto-Rejoiners such as James Cracknell for safe seats? Or is it a proper conservative party, committed to free market-driven growth, technological solutions to environmental issues, low tax, cultural conservatism, family and individual reliance, controlled and limited immigration and the forging of a new, patriotic, anti-woke, multi-racial civic identity?
For the first time, Sunak appears to be acting as if he understands that the latter approach is his party’s only hope. He must ignore the Tory wets, and finally banish the Labour era.