Anjli Raval and Jenny O’Mahony speak to Lord Anthony Giddens, academic and political advisor, about politics after the Blairite regime.
“What is the difference between Tony Blair and God? God does not think he is Tony Blair.” This was how Anthony, Lord Giddens—leading academic in Sociology and advisor to Tony Blair—began his lecture.
Lord Giddens spoke to Nouse in light of Gordon Brown’s now confirmed leadership takeover and the publication of his new book Over To You, Mr Brown: How Labour Can Win Again. As the creator of Labour’s ‘Third Way’ policy strategy in 1997, he sees the current political climate as a time of “important transition” for the party, describing Gordon Brown as “a highly accomplished politician” and the fresh start New Labour needs.
He criticises Blair’s “sofa-style leadership” and advocates ideological revitalisation to overcome the prejudices and public disillusionment with New Labour, believing that Brown “can’t coast along on past achievements”. Instead, he feels there should be a focus on building a robust public sphere and an integrated, egalitarian society.
Giddens views Blair’s Labour Party as the most successful left-of-centre party in Britain to date, praising the consistent economic growth, “due much more to Gordon Brown than Tony Blair”. He also emphasises other positive changes, running contrary to public opinion that seems to highlight the negatives. He underlined the considerable constitutional reform such as granting powers to local governments, signing up to the European social charter and European Convention for Human Rights, introducing the Freedom of Information Act, establishing civil partnerships as well as raising the position of women and reducing child poverty since 1997. There remains, nonetheless, “much more to do”.
He stresses the importance of putting workers at the heart of policy consideration and raising the employment rate to 80% from the current figure of 75%. This could be achieved by “a decent minimum wage”, as well as ensuring that every child leave school with a adequate level of education and skills, as “unskilled work has dried up”.
From a social perspective, Giddens believes the best way to address issues such as exclusion and poverty is to look to Scandinavian countries as models of excellence in social policy. He describes their governments as “the best in the world”, seeing New Labour as “a bit too distant from those parties that it should be affiliating with”. Asked to explain his high opinion of these parties’ achievements, he declares, “Look what they’ve done for old people”.
Lord Giddens then addresses “the big elephant in the room”: the subject of Iraq. “It’s a debacle” he says, shaking his head. It seems that whenever there is a mention of a decision made by Blair without Giddens’s support, be it his “sofa-style” management, Iraq, or Labour’s reliance on prisons over rehabilitation as part of its “Tough on Crime, Tough on the Causes of Crime” mantra, it is followed by an “I-told-you-so” shake of the head and a sigh.
Giddens considers David Cameron to be “a threat”, but an insignificant one at the moment. Nevertheless, he is worried that the circumstances of Brown’s election sit uncomfortably with the public.
For Brown to win the next general election, Lord Giddens considers it obvious that he will have to overcome the familiarity of New Labour, a party which has essentially “gone stale”, and develop a new policy drive of what he calls “lifestyle politics”, from environment to health, combined with a commitment to withdrawing troops from Iraq.