As I have stated on these pages before I normally have a lot of time for Peter Oborne, regardless of some of his political views. He is a serious commentator that on many subjects, from Iraq to the Murdoch press to test cricket has a lot of useful things to say. Some of his Telegraph columns are outstanding. He has completely disgraced himself with his latest missive however. It is lazy, dishonest and by the end he manages to flatly contradict his already incoherent argument. In the space of several minutes I have lost a lot of respect for the guy. I’ve posted the entire article here with my comments. You’ll have to excuse the intemperate nature of some of the things I say but I’m upset. It’s a shocking, outrageous piece.
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown: an almost unmitigated disaster for Britain.
The facts of life are Conservative – as Labour’s smartest minds now realise.
It is now widely accepted that the years of New Labour government were an almost unalloyed national disaster. Whichever measure you take – moral, social, economic, or the respect in which Britain is held in the world – we went into reverse.
RTM: Yes. New Labour was extremely right wing though. So presumably that is an indictment of Thatcher’s legacy, not Labour’s……
Nevertheless, historians may come to judge that these 13 years of Labour misrule served a vital purpose. In retrospect, the Brown/Blair period may be seen as a prolonged experiment which taught the liberal Left that its ideas cannot work, do not work, and have no chance of ever working. It takes time to ruin a country. Four years, the average period between elections, was never going to be enough. But 13 years of Left-wing government has produced a mountain of evidence that the Conservative analysis is better and more truthful.
RTM: In many respects the New Labour years were extraordinarily bad. Iraq is the most obvious example. A war that most Conservatives instinctively supported (Oborne excepted, to be fair to him) The Liberal left did not get a chance to implement its ideas in most policy areas. Sadly. To think otherwise one would have to be delusional.
The vital importance of this experiment lay in the special circumstances of the post-war period. Throughout this time, the liberal Left, as general election results show, has tended to be unpopular with voters. But its progressive ideas have enjoyed a disproportionate amount of traction among British governing elites.
RTM: Come again? You mean that the establishment isn’t as racist as it used to be? What other progressive ideas have come to dominate the minds of British governing elites that didn’t in previous generations?
This, in turn, led to a structural imbalance. By the mid-Nineties, the Right had secured victory in four consecutive general elections. However, the broad Left had secured control of vast tracts of our national life. It was powerful way beyond its traditional power bases of the Labour Party, the trade unions and the British working classes. It dominated the higher reaches of the universities, education, the public service bureaucracy, local government, Whitehall, the media (and in particular the BBC), the churches, and the police.
RTM: Pure conspiracy-theorizing. Thatcher’s ideological victory was obvious everywhere you look in public life, and any ‘national decay’ can be attributed entirely to Thatcher’s ideas becoming the dominant ones. And the BBC blatantly sided with the Tories during the major left-right confrontation during the 1980s, the Miners Strike.
So rampant and all-pervasive was the influence of this liberal-Left elite that by the end almost every meaningful action taken by the democratically elected John Major government could be sabotaged or blocked outright by a progressive alliance, which stretched through the Civil Service, the BBC, and the universities.
RTM: If Major failed it was because the Tories were split down the middle and he had no credibility as a Prime Minister. They were reviled up and down the country. Sadly many of those people have depressingly short memories. So now we are lumbered with them again.
These progressives believed that the institutions of the British state were corrupt, that state spending was automatically virtuous, that traditions should be destroyed, that the European federal idea was benign, that the British monarchy was outdated and wrong, that mass immigration was an unmitigated boon, and that any criticism of the welfare state should be dismissed.
RTM: Again this bears no relation to reality. What did the ‘progressive elite’ do to undermine the monarchy? If anything the opposite was true. It was the Blair government (and specifically Alastair Campbell) that rode to the rescue when the monarchy was rocking after the death of Diana. If they hated the monarcy so much then there was their chance to kill it off. The Tories have traditionally been pro-Europe. The business community supported mass immigration as a way of keeping wages down. Labour leaders have been attacking benefit “scroungers” for years and years and have helped create the climate where they are demonized, as has been discussed elsewhere on this blog.
They had a powerful sense of their own moral virtue. Anyone who challenged them was automatically assumed to be venal. We Conservative supporters were, by definition, vermin: immoral, arrogant, self-interested. Own up to being a Conservative and you were made to feel like a criminal, not fit for polite society, an object of contempt.
RTM: The Tories were hated by 1997 because of their own behaviour and utter failure. If sections of the establishment were joining in (the Murdoch press etc) it was because they knew which they the wind was blowing. Oh, and they also no longer saw New Labour as a threat and in fact would uphold Thatcherite principles just as assiduously as the Tories would.
The liberal Left was in charge of the government for 13 years and by the end had come close to destroying Britain. There was only one comfort: the scale of the disaster was so great that even members of its elite now admit the scale of their errors. Let’s start with economic management, the scene of New Labour’s most obvious debacle. In the early months after the 2010 general election, Labour’s shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, refused to accept the clear fact that high spending and high borrowing had driven us to economic disaster. He called on George Osborne to spend even more in order to avert recession.
RTM: Pre-election the Tories promised to match Labour spending in most areas You know, the spending that is supposedly responsible for the mess we are in? This section is the central deceit of this article. It was not public spending that brought the economy to its knees. It was the banks. True, Labour failed to rein them in, but they failed because they had accepted Conservative free market, low-regulation economic principles! It is simply preposterous to say that the Coalition has been vindicated on the economy. Austerity has failed. Brown attempted stimulus in his last months and the economy was starting to recover. Osborne reversed that, and the inevitable consequences followed.
A year on, Balls has lost the argument. Even he agrees with the need for drastic cuts in public spending. The only remaining matter of dispute between Government and Opposition is the relatively minor detail of timing – ie how quickly the cuts should be made. In all essentials, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party now accepts the fundamental economic insights of the Cameron Coalition.
RTM: Yes Balls has capitulated. Not because he was wrong but because of short-term party political calculation. His original analysis has been proven right, if anything. Just because Labour’s leaders are too spineless to oppose the cuts doesn’t prove they are working. Quite the opposite in fact.
It’s the same story with the welfare state. This is an area where, for more than half a century, the liberal Left has refused to countenance any meaningful change. In his early years as prime minister, Tony Blair explored the idea of radical reform, but he backed off at the first sign of opposition. Hence the importance of Tuesday’s remarkable intervention by Labour’s welfare spokesman, Liam Byrne. In a Guardian article designed to anticipate this year’s 70th anniversary of the Beveridge report, which founded the post-war welfare state, Byrne made a very brave admission: something has gone horribly wrong with William Beveridge’s brainchild, which is in need of urgent surgery.
RTM: It was remarkable. Remarkably shit. Surely Oborne knows he is talking politically and economically illiterate nonsense here. The welfare state has been under sustained ideological assault for years and senior Labour politicians are also implicated in this. Byrne made no “brave admission” It was political opportunism at its most cynical. And given Byrne is a scumbag, not a surprise.
Byrne does not say so explicitly, but his article amounts to a belated acceptance that Iain Duncan Smith’s programme of radical welfare reform is fully justified. Labour has come to accept Duncan Smith’s profound insight that welfare payments can trap people in poverty, rather than offer them a hand out of it, thus forcing generations of families into dependence on the state.
RTM: Byrne may agree with Duncan Smith. But once again, that doesn’t prove Duncan Smth right. It just proves Byrne is a tosser. Welfare payments do not trap people in poverty. They act as the only barrier to it in most cases. How can it be a barrier to working if there are no jobs to go to?
Likewise, schools. Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, has to move very carefully because teachers comprise (I am told by party insiders) roughly half of the Labour Party membership. But my reading of his public pronouncements suggests that he is in favour of Michael Gove’s massive programme of education reform. Gove is the first post-war education secretary to challenge effectively the power of the teaching unions – and move against an educational establishment that is constitutionally opposed to excellence and high standards. Amazingly, he seems to be bringing the Labour Party with him.
RTM: Wow. Gove is attempting the privatization of education. It’s as simple as that. Comprehensive education, while not perfect, has been a significant achievement and victory. ‘Free schools’ will end up being middle class ghettos. Of course Gove wants a confrontation with the unions. The Tories are itching for a battle with organized labour. They are the only barrier to them carrying through their neo-Victorian counter-revolution. The idea that the unions are the main barrier to educational excellence is laughable. Unions exist to protect their members interests, yes. But the teaching unions are critiquing a model that is designed to remove state oversight, and indirectly public control over schooling. The same applies in the NHS.
A sea change is at work. In practically every area of British public life – state spending, the economy, education, welfare, the European Union (where Ed Miliband refused to condemn Cameron’s pre-Christmas veto), mass immigration, law and order – Conservatives are winning the argument and taking policy in their direction.
RTM: Taking policy in their direction-yes. Winning the argument? No. Presumably things would be getting better if the Tories were getting their way? Are they? If they are I must be psychotic.
Again and again the liberal Left, such a dominant force until very recently, is in retreat, abandoning long-held dogmas and very painfully admitting that Conservatives have been right on the greatest moral, social and political issues of our age.
RTM: Dominant force? Once again, come off it. The last Labour government’s policies were informed by Conservative ideas. If they failed, and yes in many areas they did, utterly then the failure is one of Conservative ideas…….
Those who doubt this might care to study Blair’s compulsively readable autobiography, A Journey, which tells the story of how a naive young socialist gradually turned into a Conservative in all but name.
RTM: So if Blair was a Conservative, his administrations policies and actions reflected those Conservative views. You know Peter, the one you just said had failed? Oborne’s logic is slightly less than faultless here……
All this means that David Cameron’s Coalition is shaping up to be one of the most significant governments in modern history. It is the lot of most prime ministers to operate within the parameters they inherit from their predecessors, and there is nothing dishonourable in taking the view that their primary job is simply to carry on Her Majesty’s government. But a handful of prime ministers have led governments that reshaped the world we all live in. Since 1945, only two – Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher – have fallen into this very rare second category. It now looks as if Cameron may turn out to be the third. In some ways this is very strange, because Cameron, at heart an old-fashioned Tory pragmatist, is the least revolutionary Prime Minister one can imagine. But he has taken the job at a fulcrum moment, when some of the most intelligent minds on the Left have come to realise that the facts of life are Conservative. This has granted the Coalition extraordinary power and freedom, because as ministers transform the British state they can take their bitterest political opponents with them on their mission – and thus ensure that their reforms settle in and shape Britain for good.
RTM: I suppose some of this makes sense. Cameron’s government is a significant one. He intends to finish what Thatcher, and Blair, started. Oborne’s article is so full of holes that I find it amazing that he wanted it published. The Tory government is governing in the interest of its friends very successfully I suppose. To imagine that the social destruction they are wreaking will be proven to be the right course by posterity, when all of the evidence here and abroad suggests the contrary, is hubris of the sort that Oborne normally denounces.
That the Labour leadership have gone along with the Tories proves nothing about the correctness of their ideas. Kinnock did the same in the 80s. This spineless capitulation laid the groundwork for the economic mess that we are now faced with. Obviously New Labour has a lot to answer for in that regard. But it is because they were so beholden to Conservative ideology that we are where we are now.
Oborne should be ashamed of what he has written.