Britain’s race to reflate the ‘big idea’?

Will Hutton hit an interesting note on Sunday when he argued that ‘ideas matter’ in politics. Indeed, it is a measure of the Tories continuing weakness that it has sought to creep onto the potent middle ground without (yet, at least) expounding it’s own ‘big idea’ regarding the often competing roles of government, public service, civil society and the crucial wealth-creating private sector.

The heart of Blair’s problem was that he could no longer win the arguments. For all the strengths of his core creed, it had become intellectually incoherent. Parts worked and continue to work. But it did not add up to a progressive position at home, while abroad, its attachment to pre-emptive unilateralism meant that it became an apologist for American and Israeli might, the least progressive position of all. Intellectual incoherence is political death and last week Blair died.

But not, I submit, Blairism or at least a reconstituted version. All the talk now is of civil war in the Labour party, but that would require genuine and passionate differences over more than Gordon Brown’s alleged character defects. There will be grandstanding by yesterday’s attention-seeking big beasts and there will be trade union leaders appealing to the phantoms of class war and the true milk of socialism, despite the daily evidence in their atrophying memberships that they hardly appeal to the average worker, let alone voter.

Reality, however, and successful ideas which correspond to it will out. If Labour is to win again, its only chance is to bring back the intellectual and political coherence to New Labour that Blair lost, because it is the left’s sole winning philosophy. If Brown can do that, he will be a shoo-in as successor; if not, the leadership will drift from his grasp.

Cameron has performed well and begun to unravel the perception of the Tories as the nasty party: even though it’s a sound bit that New Labour is still dining out on. But, as William Rees Mogg warned in August, it may have become a little too nice for its own long term good.

In summary, the Tories still lack the kind of ‘intellectual bottom’ that Hutton believes Brown can provide the next version of Labour a record fourth consecutive term in office.


  • Fanny

    Yes, they need something like William Hague’s “Save the Pound” campaign. While it didn’t save the Tories (and left us stranded in Euroland) it was catchy, and generated more than one excellent Rory Bremner sketch.

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    Not sure that resonates with the idea of serious ‘intellectual bottom’.

  • Fanny

    Not sure what “intellectual bottom” means. Smart ass?

  • Fanny

    But seriously, I take issue with Will Hutton’s take on Blair’s core creed as being “an apologist for American and Israeli might, the least progressive position of all.”

    This is baloney. Last night Martin Amis reminded us that in the Middle East the Israelis are the progressive ones, whereas the Arabs and other Muslim states “took a left turn” towards medievalism.

    If only Blair were consistent but he’s not. He blinks too often in the face of encroaching medievalism.

  • I think the lack of a “big idea” (or a simple vision of “what they are for”) applies even more to the Lib Dems – and is why they don’t seem to be able to capture the popular imagination as anything other than a destination for a protest vote. The Tories are the only philosophical alternative, so long as the centre party is seen as Tory (or Labour) “lite”.

    Tories, meanwhile, still seem to waver between old tory values of personal freedom and responsibility and less government interference on the one hand, and thatcherite tax cuts, slashing the NHS, and being nasty to foreigners on the other.

    The worst excesses of Thatcherism are still casting their shadow over the political landscape, and making many voters, who want to desert New Labour, decidedly nervous.