One effect of growing old is that you get to see history being rewritten. So, I fear, it is with the description of Liz Kendall as being a Blairite because she rejects the idea that England has moved leftwards and supports Toryish policies such as free schools and spending 2% of GDP on defence.
This is to do Blair a disservice. Blair's latter-day sucking up to billionaires and tyrants has caused some people to forget that he did not win elections merely because he copied Tory policies and moved to some nebulous "centre ground." His talent was greater than that. He succeeded in fitting left-wing policies into rightist sentiments; that's what triangulation, at its best, meant.
His famous slogan "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", for example, was both leftist and rightist. So too was his "make work pay" policy. This took the idea popular on the right that work is better than idleness and used it as a case for redistributing income via tax credits to the low-paid. And "education, education, education" both appealed to self-help and aspiration whilst also promoting the life-chances of the worst off.
And here's my problem. I don't see much evidence that latter-day Blairites are doing this; abandoning some of the party's sacred cows is not sufficient. Ms Kendall's talk of public sector reform could mean anything from giving fat privatization contracts to crony capitalists to the more admirable decentralization of the sector advocated by Paul Cotterill*.
But what would latter-day triangulation look like? Here are some suggestions:
- It would champion smaller businesses - and worker democracy - against bigger ones as part of a pro-growth policy. This is leftist in the sense that it challenges the very wealthy but rightist in that it embraces aspiration.
- It would ask: why do employers prefer Romanians with a rudimentary grasp of English to people who have experienced eleven years of English education? This is rightist in that it speaks to immigration, but leftist in that it seeks to improve the life-chances of the worst off.
- Policies to make work pay should include jobs guarantees and higher aggregate demand but also supply-side policies to raise productivity. We can combine redistribution and increased efficiency, given that we're starting from a low base for the latter.
I fear, though, that Labour isn't sufficiently exploring these possibilities. Paradoxically, some so-called Blairites don't seem to appreciate sufficiently the man's achievements.
* In fairness, Kendall has made encouraging noises here.