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.