In British politics, the term Blairism refers to the political ideology of former leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister Tony Blair. It entered the New Penguin English Dictionary in 2000. Proponents of Blairism are referred to as Blairites.
Politically, Blair has been identified with record investment into public services, an interventionist and Atlanticist foreign policy, support for stronger law enforcement powers, a large focus on surveillance as a means to address terrorism and a large focus on education as a means to encourage social mobility. In the early years (circa 1994–1997), Blairism was also associated with support for European integration and particularly British participation in the European single currency, though this waned after Labour took office.
The term is used in particular in contrast to Brownite, to identify those within the Labour Party with a connection to, or identification with, Gordon Brown rather than Blair. However, with Blair and Brown typically in agreement on most political issues (from Iraq to public sector reform), commentators have noted that "the difference between Brownites and Blairites … is more tribal than ideological". This is believed to stem from a personal disagreement between Blair and Brown over who should have run for the leadership following the death of John Smith in 1994: though Brown was originally considered the senior of the two, he waited until after Smith's funeral to begin campaigning by which point Blair had gathered too much momentum to be beaten. However, in his book, Whatever it Takes, Steve Richards offered an alternate view, that there were significant disagreements between the two about relative poverty, the level of public spending and the potential for choice in public services.
With New Labour determined not to lose another election after nearly two decades out of office, and in relation to the modernisation of the party resulting in the creation of "New Labour", the party felt Brown still backed "Old Labour" policies, where they feared they would lose another election if Brown became leader. As the result of Brown not acquiring enough backing following key party members switching from Brown to Blair, coupled with Blair's charisma, youthful looks and excellent oratory skills, Brown agreed not to stand against Blair - leading to the Labour landslide victory in 1997.
For a long time, there has been a great deal of discussion in British politics about the Blairite legacy. This has intensified since September 2006, when Blair announced his intention to resign within a year, and especially since May 2007, when he said he would resign as Prime Minister on 27 June 2007. While centrists such as Gordon Brown and David Cameron claim that Blairism is safe in their hands, critics on the left (e.g. John McDonnell) and right (e.g. Norman Tebbit) dispute its value to British society. Others have even speculated that, if the Blairite coalition is to be seen as essentially one of pro-market anti-Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats could even be its ultimate inheritors.
In a 1999 article, the news-magazine The Economist stated:
Mr Blair will doubtless do his duty and lavish praise on Labour's glorious past. But, in truth, Mr Blair has always displayed a marked ambivalence towards Labour history. His greatest achievement in opposition was to get the party to ditch its historic commitment to nationalisation, and to water down its traditional links with the unions. At times he has even hinted that the very foundation of the Labour Party was a mistake, since it divided "progressive" politics and led to a century dominated by the Conservatives. Mr Blair knows that all this makes many of his party faithful deeply uneasy.
Blair's tenure is known for an expansion of LGBT rights such as the introduction of legal civil partnerships. Blair himself has told the LGBT organisation Stonewall that "[w]hat has happened is that the culture of the country has changed in a definable way" and that "[i]t's a thing that doesn't just give me a lot of pride, but it has actually brought a lot of joy." Blair has also claimed to have got up off his seat and danced upon seeing the first partnership ceremonies on television.
Relationship to prior administrations
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The Daily Telegraph stated in April 2008 that Blair's programme, with the emphasis on 'New Labour', accepted the free-market ideology of Thatcherism such as deregulation, privatisation of key national industries, maintaining a flexible labour market, marginalising the trade unions, and devolving government decision making to local authorities.
In the BBC Four documentary film Tory! Tory! Tory!, Blair is described as personally admiring Thatcher deeply and making the decision that she would be the first outside person he formally invited to visit him in 10 Downing Street.
Previous Prime Minister John Major was one of the original figures behind the Northern Ireland peace process that Blair continued, and both of them campaigned in support of the Good Friday Agreement. However, Blair later snubbed Major by declining to invite him to a 2007 joint address to the House of Lords and House of Commons on the peace process.
Blair privately called Thatcher "unhinged", a description that later became public knowledge. Blair criticised the Thatcher government's record on poverty and made that a key issue for Labour economic policy. He made the goal to eradicate child poverty in Britain within 20 years based on the fact that one-third of British children were in poverty post-Thatcher compared to the 9% rate in 1979 (although these statistics are disputed).
Blair also abolished Section 28, and he created lot more pro-European initiatives compared to Thatcher. Blair was criticised by various Thatcherites such as John Redwood, Norman Tebbit and William Hague.
In his autobiography published in 2010, titled A Journey, Blair remarked:
In what caused much jarring and tutting within the party, I even decided to own up to supporting changes Margaret Thatcher had made. I knew the credibility of the whole New Labour project rested on accepting that much of what she wanted to do in the 1980s was inevitable, a consequence not of ideology but of social and economic change. The way she did it was often very ideological, sometimes unnecessarily so, but that didn't alter the basic fact: Britain needed the industrial and economic reforms of the Thatcher period.
Relationship to later administrations
Gordon Brown followed Blair as Prime Minister, after Brown's long tenure as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Although viewed in the media as somewhat personally close, Blair later wrote in his autobiography A Journey that a "maddening" Brown effectively blackmailed him while he was in 10 Downing Street. Blair accused Brown of orchestrating the investigation into the cash-for-honours scandal and stated that the personal animosity was so strong that it led him to frequent drinking, a big change for Blair. Blair also has told journalist Andrew Marr that as their years working together went on, co-operation become "hard going on impossible".
As stated before, both men had similar positions on actual issues and government policies. To the extent that they felt divided, it came mostly from differences in personality, background, and managing style.
- Ezard, John (4 August 2000). "Blairism, noun: very difficult to define". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
- How to bear Blair: become a Blairite Will Hutton, Guardian Unlimited – Comment is free, 21 June 2006
- Jack the Knife goes for the clearout kill Kirsty Milne, The Scotsman, 28 November 2001
- Will he? Won't he? Suzie Mackenzie, The Guardian, 25 September 2004
-  Nick Cohen, The Guardian, 03 October 2010
- Kennedy can still exploit this perfect political storm Martin Kettle, The Guardian, 26 April 2005
- "Tony Blair's war on poverty". The Economist. 23 September 1999. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
- "Blair proud of gay rights record". BBC News. 22 March 2007.
- "Margaret Thatcher, inspiration to New Labour". The Daily Telegraph. 17 April 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
- BBC Four, Tory! Tory! Tory!
- Walker, Kristy (4 May 2007). "Blair leaves Major out of special Parliamentary Northern Ireland address". Daily Mail. Retrieved 4 November 2011.
- Walker, Kristy (4 May 2007). "Blair cuts Major out of his 'grandstanding' Ulster peace address". Daily Mail. Retrieved 4 November 2011.
- Iain Dale (19 August 2010). "In conversation with... Matthew Parris". Total Politics. Retrieved 4 November 2011.
I think he was unhinged. That's the same word Tony Blair used of Margaret Thatcher. I think Tony Blair was a bit unhinged too. I think Margaret Thatcher had her unhinged moments.
- Tony Blair (2010). A Journey. Random House. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-307-37578-0.
- "Tony Blair: Gordon Brown tried to blackmail me". The Daily Telegraph. 1 September 2010. Retrieved 30 June 2011.