Other ‘polite alternatives’ to the BNP

On June 1 2011, we contributed a post about the extent to which the British National Party, UK Independence Party and the Conservatives were ‘fishing in the same pond’ of voters for their electoral support.

We did so on the basis of a 2009 survey, in which respondents were not only asked which party they would vote for in a general election, but also how likely it was that they would support any of the other parties. Our conclusions were that the majority of the potential voters of the BNP are also potential UKIP voters. In addition, slightly over half of potential BNP voters were also potential Conservative voters. The segment of the BNP support that does not overlap with either UKIP or Conservatives was relatively small, being less than 20 percent of the party’s total electoral potential.

Some readers asked us to show the overlap in the potential support of the BNP and left wing parties. The figure above provides this information, and has been constructed in the same fashion as the figure in our earlier blog post; and it allows us to draw a number of conclusions.

First, slightly over 40 percent of potential BNP voters are also potential supporters of the Greens. Overlap with Labour is smaller, amounting to less than a quarter of BNP electoral potential. However, both these overlaps are considerably smaller than those with the Tories and UKIP. In other words, and perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of potential BNP voters do not consider left wing parties as a relevant electoral choice: a clear majority looks at UKIP and Conservatives as an attractive alternative.

Second, the potential pool of voters shared by Labour and Greens is large. This suggests that under a different electoral system – one that does not force people to vote tactically – the Greens’ share of votes cast might be significantly higher.

This overlap between potential voters for the BNP and parties generally considered to be on the left suggests two further points. The first is that the ideological orientations of voters cannot directly be deduced from the ideological character of the party they vote for. Put differently, not all BNP supporters are Fascists, not all Labour supporters are socialists, and so on. The second is that overlap of support between Greens and BNP, two seemingly incompatible parties, is likely to contain a number of voters who are disenchanted with the mainstream parties, and for whom, therefore, any alternative carries some appeal. From our current data, unfortunately, we cannot ascertain how large this segment is.

Cees van der Eijk and Eliyahu V. Sapir

Cameron versus Clausewitz

David Cameron responded to the concerns of his defence chiefs about the capacities of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force while fighting a war in Afghanistan and intervening in Libya by telling them: ‘You do the fighting, I’ll do the talking’.

Is this an appropriate division of labour at time of war? And if not, what should the Prime Minister do?

I am currently writing about current counter-terrorism strategies, and in particular whether critical approaches are wrongly ignoring the lessons of traditional thinkers, and in particular the work of the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz and his 1832 book On War.

Clausewitz is an often-quoted and influential thinker who wrote his philosophy of war in the light of his experience fighting Napoleon during the early nineteenth century. On War has been a key text in military staff colleges and university politics departments ever since.  Clausewitz has even made his way into popular culture, most clearly in the phrase “War is a continuation of politics by other means”.  His acceptance into the mainstream is neatly illustrated by this discussion in the 1995 movie Crimson Tide.

In regard to strategic planning Clausewitz’s most significant contribution is that of the concept of the Remarkable Trinity which stipulates that in order for a war to be conducted effectively it is necessary to maintain a balance between Government, the Military and the Public.  Therefore it is possible to read Cameron’s “You do the fighting, I’ll do the talking” as the Prime Minister trying to stabilise the Trinity and stop the Military from encroaching into the arena of Government and upsetting the Public.  Instead Cameron wishes the generals, air chiefs and admirals to focus on their job and fight.

However (to paraphrase the Crimson Tide discussion) what Clausewitz actually argued was a little more complicated.  The Trinity of Government, Military and Public is a simplification of Clausewitz’s original idea.  For Clausewitz wrote:

As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a remarkable trinity–composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force [Public]; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam [Military]; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone [Government].

This was simplified by Colonel Harry Summer in his influential analysis of the Vietnam War On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War. Yet, while this new Trinity is a useful tool to help illustrate the complexity of war, it loses the nuance that is necessary to truly understand it.

Clausewitz’s pithier and better well-know remark is similarly more complicated.  Rather than being ‘a continuation of politics’, a place where soldiers fight and stop talking, war is rather a continuation of ‘policy’.  Some may think this a semantic distinction but when viewed in conjunction with the Trinity the role of political leadership is altered significantly.  And it places the words of the defence chiefs into a different light.

This is because, so far as Clausewitz is concerned, in time of war the Military and Public are subordinate to the realm of reason, that is: Government.  It is not government’s role to talk the talk, but rather to think the thought.  Having determined the policy, government needs to win public approval and ensure the military are able to carry it out.

When Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant, made their concerns known, they were carrying out their roles as Clausewitz envisaged.  As an instrument of policy it is the military’s duty to obtain the resources necessary to carry out the job asked of them.  Whilst it is not Cameron’s role to pander to these requests, he does have an obligation to listen.  In short, whilst it is the military’s job to fight, the government’s primary task is to think, and ensure that any military action to which they commit the armed forces is both necessary and has a clear, achievable objective.

As the operations in Libya escalate it is important that each part of the Trinity (the public as much as the military and other politicians) scrutinise what is happening, and ensure that Cameron is thinking – and not just talking.

Liam McCarthy

Extremism: what we can learn from Sweden

I’m writing this on my return flight from Stockholm, where we held the last workshop in our Chatham House project on Understanding and Dealing with the Spread of Populist Extremism. The project explores the rise of populist extremist parties across Europe, and considers how various actors – from mainstream parties to the media – might respond. To this end, representatives from the Swedish Parliament, Proventus, Open Society, the Smith Institute and universities of Amsterdam and Stockholm gathered around a table to talk about the Swedish experience. The discussion was timely: at the most recent set of elections the extreme right Swedish Democrats (SD) entered Parliament with 20 seats, after polling over 5% of the vote.

Even before sitting down, there quickly emerged some interesting comparisons between the Brits and Swedes. Their ruthlessly efficient Ikea-style hotels, for instance, contrast sharply with my usual jaunts at Premier Inn (I was even offered a comprehensive ‘pillow menu’). And then there was the effortlessly cool dress-code of Swedish academics, which puts the traditional attire evident at the annual conference of the Political Studies Association (PSA) to shame. But there also emerged more substantive points, particularly in terms of Sweden’s experience with populist extremism (these observations, by the way, owe much to a presentation by Professor Jens Rydgren).

The first relates to electoral history. Like the Brits, until recently the Swedes never really had to worry about extremism. The Swedish equivalents to the BNP long struggled to mobilise and sustain a challenge. This failure was shaped by several trends. One was the way in which socio-economic issues long dominated the agenda, while the salience of the extreme right’s core social and cultural issues (for example immigration and national identity) remained low. Another was the way in which there remained substantial policy differences between the main parties, which ensured choice for Swedes at elections and reduced space available to extremist ‘entrepreneurs’. The last was the way in which, for many years, extreme right-wing parties themselves failed to present themselves as a legitimate and credible alternative. Like the Brits, these trends fostered a dismissive view of extremists and their potential.

The second point, however, concerns how this landscape has changed. As in Britain, Swedes are now much more anxious about those socio-cultural issues which favour the extreme right. At the same time, much like Labour and the Conservatives the main parties have converged on the centre ground, thereby reducing political choice, fuelling a sense among voters that ‘they are all the same’ and opening space for populist ‘outsiders’. And lastly, similar to the BNP the SD responded by investing more seriously in their organization, ideology and strategy. So much so, in fact, that some sections of the Swedish media began softening their position toward the SD (for example by referring to them as ‘populist’ rather than ‘extremist’). The SD have clearly been more successful than their British cousins, but both parties have strong links and the lesson from Sweden is not lost on activists looking toward a possible post-Griffin era.

This brings me to my final point, which concerns electoral potential. The consensus around the table at the Stockholm workshop was that, due to the above trends, there remains considerable potential for the SD to keep growing. Drawing on evidence in my new book, I have similarly argued that despite the recent implosion of the BNP there remains considerable scope  for a populist, anti-immigrant party in Britain. Perhaps one of the main differences between Britain and Sweden is that the extreme right in the former has not yet found a credible formula.

The failure of the BNP at recent elections in England and Wales will lead many to return to a dismissive view of the movement and its prospects. But as the experience of Sweden demonstrates, it is possible for a movement that was once derided as an extremist farce to revitalize its fortunes and become a significant electoral force.

Matthew Goodwin

Yes, ex-Prime Minister

The Independent’s Steve Richards recently highlighted the existence of an ‘informal alliance’ between David Cameron and Tony Blair. Richards suggested that this ‘alliance’ is based on a policy agenda embraced by many of those who worked closest with Blair in government as well as some of Cameron’s most trusted Cabinet colleagues.

I reflected on the significance of this ‘alliance’ for Liberal Conspiracy – the UK’s most popular left-of-centre politics blog. I offered some thoughts about what it says both about Blair’s relationship with Labour; and, more generally, about the reasons why certain ex-Prime Ministers now allow themselves to be appropriated by their former rivals.

Steven Fielding

Cameron: cave canem!

Towards the end of his lecture at Nottingham University on 9 June 2011, Martin Wolff from the Financial Times argued that one of the most surprising facts of the current economic crisis is the silence of the Left. This is currently true, to some extent. The Left however may soon prove to be the dog that not only barks, but also bites.

Since the autumn of 2007, the global economy has been in turmoil over the financial crisis. Nevertheless, while banks are making profits again and bonuses in the City have soared, the rest of us have to pay for the government’s bailout of failing banks through a draconian programme of public sector cuts. And yet, there has so far been hardly a challenge by the Left. How can we understand this lack of resistance, this dearth of alternative proposals?

Thirteen years of New Labour in power are clearly an important part of the answer. Instead of challenging the neo-liberal restructuring by the previous Conservative governments, New Labour extended it into the public sector and intensified discourses of consumer choice and private sector efficiency. A lot of current coalition government policies including the partial privatisation of public services and the increase in university tuition fees of up to £9000 per year are simply an exacerbation of the previous government’s policies. Such policies have not only extended restructuring, they further contributed to a normalisation of the neo-liberal discourse of inevitable adjustment to global restructuring. As a result, Thatcher’s slogan of ‘there is no alternative’ was further cemented in people’s minds and contributed to their disempowerment.

And yet, this is only part of the story. Global restructuring has not only put trade unions under pressure, but as I have pointed out in this book it has also put weapons in the hands of workers, which make a progressive strategy possible.

First, several large demonstrations against the cuts have already taken place with students and academics taking the lead on 10 November 2010, followed by one of the largest demonstrations ever in London on 26 March 2011. This was complemented by several strikes as, for example, in Further and Higher Education during the same month.

Second, a range of trade unions is in the process of mounting a challenge to the coalition government. The National Union of  Teachers is balloting its members for industrial action over changes to the teachers’ pension system, as is the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is also asking its members to endorse industrial action over jobs, pensions and pay. The goal is to organise together with the Further Education section of the University and College Union (UCU) a joint day of action on 30 June. Other unions, although not part of industrial action on that day, have also indicated their intentions to intensify their activities against the cuts. The Higher Education section of UCU has just announced new plans of balloting its members for industrial action in the autumn, Unison, the large public sector union, and Unite, organising workers in the public and private sector, are contemplating similar steps.

What is in the making here is potentially large scale industrial action in the public sector and beyond with increasing calls on the Trades Union Congress to call for a general strike. Importantly, this resistance is backed up with alternative proposals. As the PCS makes clear on its web site, a Robin Hood Tax on currency transactions, a stronger effort by the state to tackle tax avoidance by large corporations or a withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan could save billions of pounds and be much more effective than budget cuts.

Trade unions are not alone in this struggle. Social movements such as UK Uncut and its direct action campaigns or the Right to Work campaign, but also NGOs including War on Want have joined the fight.

What is emerging is a broad left movement, which promises to mobilise large parts of society against the cuts. Under such pressure it is possible that the coalition government may well collapse – the Liberal Democrats are most vulnerable here. That the Business Secretary Vince Cable recently threatened tougher anti–trade union laws should there be co-ordinated strike action suggests the government is already feeling the heat.

In short – with Dave Prentis of Unison now promising the biggest walk out since the General Strike over government pension reforms – while Martin Wolff might not have heard it, the dog has already barked, and it threatens to become noisier still. So, as the Romans once warned: cave canem!

Andreas Bieler

The life (and death?) of the ‘property-owning democracy’?

A recent report from the Halifax on prospective first-time buyers has led a number of commentators to speculate about whether we might be witnessing the beginning of the end for the property-owning democracy.

Often understood as an invention of the Thatcher governments of the 1980s, the idea of the property-owning democracy in fact has a much longer and more complicated history. As I have explained elsewhere, the Conservative MP Noel Skelton originally coined the term in the early 1920s. It formed part of his search for a ‘constructive conservatism’ that would help his party win working-class votes during an era of mass democracy, and has subsequently gone through various manifestations.

For interwar Conservatives, the prospect of property ownership formed a key part of their appeal to the newly expanded electorate. They also saw it as correcting a dangerous imbalance in national life. Skelton noted that the previous half-century had seen ordinary citizens enjoy a rapid advance in their political and educational status, but no such extension of their economic status. This disparity had produced a society which was dangerously ‘lop-sided’ and ‘unstable’; equilibrium could only be restored, accordingly to Skelton, through the wider distribution of property.

When the term was revived in the aftermath of the Second World War, it formed part of the Conservative reaction to the nationalisations of the Attlee government. In a famous speech in Blackpool in 1946, Anthony Eden contrasted the Labour objective of ‘state ownership of all the means of production’ with the Conservative desire to see ‘the distribution of ownership over the widest practicable number of individuals’. But the return to the issue of property was also driven in part by the needs of ordinary people. The combination of economic stagnation and German bombing had left postwar Britain with a shortfall of nearly two million homes, and a Mass Observation survey prior to the 1945 general election found that housing was at the top of the electorate’s list of priorities. The emphasis on housing was, as the historian John Ramsden put it, the ‘result of public demand rather than party calculation’.

For the Thatcherites of the 1980s, the property-owning democracy formed part of a much wider set of ideological objectives. The sale of council houses and of shares in the nationalized industries formed a crucial part of Conservative statecraft, as the Thatcher governments sought to reduce state involvement in the economy. But for many Thatcherites the wider distribution of property was also part of what the Conservative leader herself called a ‘crusade to enfranchise the many in the economic life of the nation’. Property-ownership was seen as a crucial prerequisite to democratic power and full citizenship.

The housing boom of the 1990s and 2000s has ensured that the ideas surrounding the property-owning democracy have retained political currency. New Labour was only too keen to trade on the idea as part of an appeal to ‘aspirational’ voters. That same boom has, however, threatened its continued existence. The rapid rise in house prices and the growing caution of mortgage lenders has led many to become increasingly pessimistic about their prospects for getting on the housing ladder.

This poses an important problem for politicians with an interest in property. For while all three mainstream political parties now endorse the notion of the property-owning democracy, none has yet attempted to address the question – what happens when no one can afford to join it?

Matthew Francis

New leaders please!

Today’s newspapers don’t make pleasant reading for Ed Miliband.  The Telegraph claims he has been given two years to prove himself. The Mail puts the figure at 15 months. The Sun gives him just a year.

Miliband is not the only leader to find himself under pressure: there is also discussion at Westminster about Nick Clegg’s political future, and whether he is likely to be Lib Dem leader by the time of the next election.

Based on the historical record at least, the chances are that at least one of the main party leaders will not make it to the next election. Leaders can get forced out, they can get voted out, they can decide they’ve had enough, or they can die. A clear majority of post-war parliaments have seen changes in the leadership of one or more of the three main parties, even once the electoral cycle was one year in.

At this point in the last parliament, for example, the main three parties were led by Tony Blair, David Cameron, and Ming Campbell. Of those, only one remained by the time of the next contest. Go back to the Parliament before, and one year in you had Blair, Duncan Smith and Kennedy. Two of those made it to the general election. Before that, one year in, it was Blair, Hague, Ashdown; two of them made it to the election. You have to go back until the Parliament of 1983 to find a parliament when all the incumbent leaders one year in remained in situ come the next election. Of the 14 full-ish length parliaments going back to 1945 – that is, excluding 1950, 1964 and February 1974 – a full ten have seen changes in leadership, even after we were one year into a Parliament.

So based on what we’ve seen since 1945, the probability that it will be Cameron, Miliband and Clegg taking part in any TV debates at the next election is about 30%.

Philip Cowley

Ed Miliband: five things we know

According to political journalists Ed Miliband is in a crisis. In the political equivalent of a cop movie cliche he has until the next Labour conference to fix things – or else. Labour has no direction, its poll ratings are poor and all because Miliband’s leadership credentials have got lost in the post. Labour elected the wrong Miliband and brother David is hovering in the wings impatiently waiting to take centre stage.

There’s another school of thought that points to the fact that there’s new book out on Ed and journalists are just looking for a story. That Ed beat David for the leadership fascinates political editors looking for a narrative that will beguile punters who have no interest in politics but love soap opera. There are also numerous Blairite Ultras in the party and in the press  – as well as Conservatives of course – who want to cause trouble for Ed no matter how well he might be doing.

I’ve written about New Labour over the years, teach Nottingham students about its rise and (maybe?) fall and will be producing a second edition of this book in the fullness of time. So, let me try and establish the extent to which I think Labour under Ed really is in trouble.

1. Ed Miliband inherited a divided party in deep electoral trouble. Labour won just 30% of the vote in 2010 – and this was considered a good result, given the depths to which it sank under Gordon Brown. Labour also lost most amongst those voters – the C1s and C2s – who effectively decide which party wins office. New Labour had always been characterised, as Steve Richards has pointed out, by a deep fissure between neo-liberal zealots and skeptics who saw the market as a useful device but nothing more. Electoral success and economic growth kept the consequences of this contradiction in check but latterly under Blair it became almost unmanageable – and the world financial crisis made it worse.

2. Whatever his critics say, Ed Miliband has a strategy to address the party’s deep divides. He has identified Labour with the plight of the ‘squeezed middle’, by which he means the C1 and C2 voters who now face reduced public provision, declining standards of living and increased job insecurity. Miliband argues that during the present tricky period such people will not be helped by more liberalization but instead through better forms of government action. He is however hardly ‘Red Ed’. His speech describing people guilty of anti-social behaviour with others in receipt of excessive boardroom pay as ‘those ripping off our society’ cleverly hoiks together some of New and Old Labour’s favourite villains. This is not a fully worked out strategy – look at the muddle that is Blue Labour – but one year after an election defeat and maybe four years ahead of another that is both understandable and wise. But Miliband has set out Labour’s general direction.

3. Ed Miliband is not a great communicator so it’s not surprising that so few appreciate this strategy. Presentationally he stands somewhere between Blair slick and Brown slack – and much closer to the latter than the former. He is an underwhelming Parliamentary performer. This matters as doing well in the Commons ensures the troops on the backbenches are happy (and so don’t moan to journalists) and keeps at bay the Parliamentary sketch writers (top of whose job description is: ‘must be bitchy’). Neil Kinnock’s periodic failings in the Commons fostered discontent even though he mapped out Labour’s only viable strategy. The same might be said of Ed.

4. If Ed Miliband is sacked it won’t be because he can’t sell a speech – but because his party is doing badly in the opinion polls. Yet under his leadership Labour has regained and sustained a lead over the Conservatives. It is not huge and of late the lead hasn’t been very large. It might be argued that given government cuts and flip-flops, Labour’s lead should be huge and the party should have done better in the May elections. On the other hand it could be said that, given where Labour stood in May 2010 and the baggage it carried into opposition, the lead is remarkable. Where were the Conservatives in the first year after 1997? That’s a rhetorical question by the way.

5. The alternative to Ed Miliband is not a good as some think it is. Blairite Ultras go moist when they think of Tony Blair and to them David Miliband is Blair’s Mini-Me. This is unfair as the senior Miliband is his own man. But is he the best man to lead Labour? David certainly has more experience in government than his brother. But that also means he is more tainted – over Iraq for example – than is Ed. Moreover, if Ed’s problem is partly presentational, does anyone remember David and the banana?  And, like his brother, David has never been associated with inspiring flights of oratory. David also seems to lack something his brother does not: bottle. As Polly Toynbee pointed out, if David had stood against Gordon Brown – and like St Peter he had three chances – Labour might have won enough seats to now be in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. But he did not. In contrast, despite the family connection, Ed stood against his brother for the leadership, thereby showing he has something of the Blair about him. In contrast, David seems to have more of the Brown.

All leaders of the opposition suffer media speculation that they are in ‘crisis’ and about to be dumped. Ask every leader of the Conservative party between 1997 and 2010, David Cameron included. In recent times Tony Blair has been the exception to this rule – but only because between 1994 and 1997 he faced a governing party in the midst of a nervous breakdown and so always enjoyed large leads in the polls. Ed Miliband is not in such a fortunate position. He has to take a divided and discredited party into new territory, one presently occupied by that unique beast, a coalition government.  He may look a bit geeky, speak in bullet points and have the charisma of a speak-your-weight-machine but it is unlikely that anyone else – given where Labour was in May 2010 – would have done much better.

Steven Fielding

The Politics of the Female Face

Islamic women wearing the veil are often assumed to be either down-trodden or illiberal. Such assumptions have become framed in a discourse of ‘othering’ which denies these women’s histories, experiences and agency. This discourse plays an increasingly worrying role in Europe in augmenting divisions between communities, races and women. It becomes urgent therefore to disrupt such infantilizing and disempowering representations.

Building on my work with the piquetero (unemployed) movement in Argentina, particularly the role of masked women piqueteras who play a leading role in piquetes – the blocking of roads to make demands on the state – , I argue that the decision of a woman to cover her face can be a political act that has many meanings.

I explore this in my recent Ceasefire column, suggesting that we can only engage with these meanings by speaking with and listening to the women who take the decision to wear a veil or a mask.

Sara Motta

Tony Blair: five things we know

Whenever Tony Blair returns to Britain and is interviewed by journalists the blogosphere and Twitter explode with fury, vengeance and vituperation: it’s like Middlesbrough on a Friday night.

The former Prime Minister has recently come back to the UK to publicise the publication of the paperback version of his autobiography. This is a fascinating document – if you want to understand Blair’s perspective then it is a must-read.

When it comes to Blair, however, empathy is in short supply. Reaction to his latest visit has been predictable. Those who think of themselves as being on the left condemn Blair for his role in the Iraq War; others, some of whom might also think of themselves as being on the left – but a very different kind of left – counter by pointing out his sheer political ‘class’.

As this nerdy version of a stare-out contest rages on, I thought it useful to outline what a more sober eye might see in Blair’s record. I’ve written about New Labour over the years, teach undergraduates at Nottingham about its rise and (maybe?) fall and will be producing a second edition of this book in the fullness of time. I can’t claim to be objective – nobody is by the way – but this is my take.

1. Tony Blair won three general elections in a row. This is a unique achievement for a Labour leader – the first two by landslides. Some claim that 1997 was in the bag as Major’s Conservatives had imploded by 1994 but that’s a moot point. What must be admitted is that Blair gave Labour such a boost before 1997 he made the 2001 victory almost inevitable. For a time he talked to the kind of voter who had once seen Labour as beyond the pale.

2. Tony Blair was a social democrat; but a very neo-liberal one. He believed that market mechanisms were generally better at providing public services than the state. That did not make him a Thatcherite: plenty of social democrats across Europe had embraced the market before her as they looked for credible ways of making society more equal.

3. Tony Blair helped improve public services and stopped inequality getting (much) worse. Public spending increased: new hospitals and schools were built, more teachers, nurses and doctors employed. Under Blair the public sector made up for the neglect that had begun under the last Labour government. His record on equality was more mixed – the super-rich got richer while some of the poorest (pensioners; those in work with children) did relatively well. But could Blair have done more in the midst of unprecedented economic growth? Probably.

4. When Tony Blair left office he was deeply unpopular. It is often forgotten that during the 2005 election Blair had to call in Gordon Brown to give him credibility. Blair also had been forced to state that he wouldn’t contest another election. If Brown went on to make matters worse when he finally became Prime Minister, things had already gone badly awry for Labour by the end of Blair’s tenure. He had lost his touch.

5. Tony Blair could not have stopped the Iraq War.  But Blair believed he might and, if not, by being inside the tent he could ameliorate mistakes that President Bush on his own would have made. In other words Blair seriously over-estimated his ability to influence the White House – a mistake other Prime Ministers have made in the past.

This is not, I suspect, the time for many people to embrace a balanced view of Tony Blair. There is a process in Britain which means that electorally successful politicians are generally loathed for decades after they have left office. But at some point – when they are dead, dying or ga-ga, Britons begin to realize that they were not all bad: look at the fall and then rise in the reputations of MacDonald, Baldwin and Thatcher.

It’s ironic that Harold Wilson was often cited against Blair. For the former Labour Prime Minister had not allowed British involvement in the Vietnam War despite US pressure. Yet, for much of the 1970s and 1980s Wilson had been a by-word for lack of principle, love of capitalism and even corruption. By the 1990s, after nearly two decades of a Conservative government, historians (myself included) finally began to reassess his record.

I wonder how long Blair will have to wait for rehabilitation?

Steven Fielding