"Amongst the many things that the Thatcher revolution changed was the Labour Party. Gradually, the Labour leadership came to realise that the changes of the 1980s were irreversible, because people didn’t want to reverse them. People didn’t want to go back to Clause 4, class warfare and industrial strife. A more middle-class Britain wanted a middle-class lifestyle based on a prosperous market economy.
Tony Blair understood this – profoundly understood it. And people could see he understood it. So they could see that New Labour really was new. But there was something else that Tony Blair understood. He understood that some people had been left behind.
In point of fact, he wasn’t the first person to understand that. Margaret Thatcher herself became increasingly worried that not everyone was participating in her property-owning democracy. She became increasingly worried that the new, open economy was not tackling problems of family breakdown, crime, poor schooling, drug dependency and the decline of respect in parts of our inner cities. She made a famous speech invoking religion as a means of enriching our sense of social obligation.
Her successor, John Major, was even more acutely aware of the problem of those left behind. It was he who sought to make Britain a nation at ease with itself. It was he who formulated the desire to make Britain a truly classless society – explicitly wanting to tackle the problems of an underclass of people left behind…
…But it was Tony Blair who made the aims of a stronger economy and more
decent society most explicit, with his twin focus on ‘social justice
and economic efficiency’. His aims were not markedly different to Mrs
Thatcher’s aims, or John Major’s aims. But they were new for Labour.
The ‘new bit’ of New Labour was the equivalence granted to economic
Tony Blair saw that the task of New Labour was to preserve the fruits
of the Thatcher revolution – the open market economy and the end of the
‘us vs. them’ mentality – whilst making real progress to include the
excluded minority. On that prospectus, he won the 1997 election.
Tony Blair’s victory in that election created a problem for the
Conservative Party. It was not the same sort of problem that Old Labour
had faced. It was not a problem that arose from the failure of our
ideas. It was, on the contrary, a problem that arose from the triumph
of our ideas…
…There was in truth nothing fundamentally new about the New Labour
analysis except that the Party offering it was Labour. The market
economy New Labour set out to protect was a market economy that
Conservatives had fostered. The social ills New Labour set out to cure
were social ills that Conservatives – Margaret Thatcher and John Major
alike – had tried to cure. So we, as a Party, were left opposing a
Prime Minister who claimed that his aims were far closer to our own.
From this fundamental fact sprang most of the difficulties we faced
over the last decade.
We knew how to rescue Britain from Old Labour. We knew how to win the
battle of ideas with Old Labour. We did not know how to deal with our
own victory in that battle of ideas. That victory left us with an
Despite its 1997 prospectus, the Government has failed to maintain the
competitiveness of our economy, and has failed to lift the excluded out
of the trap of multiple deprivation in which they find themselves. We
have seen neither economic efficiency, nor social justice.
The reasons for these failures are instructive. In both domains –
economic and social – the Blair/Brown Government has put its faith in
legislation, regulation and bureaucracy. Wherever they have seen a
problem, they have seen action by the state as the solution. This is
why we have seen an unprecedented growth in the size of the
administration – both in the civil service and in the public sector
Why has the Government resorted to these failing bureaucratic measures?
Partly because that is the natural instinct of the Labour Party – and especially of Gordon Brown.
Partly because, unless checked, it is the natural instinct of the civil service.
But there is another reason. Tony Blair wants results fast. He wants
results visible. He wants results that are visibly the results of his
actions. So he is not really interested in long-term changes of culture
if they do not produce short-term effects.
And now, with the quest for a legacy becoming an all-consuming mission,
the short term just got shorter. For Tony Blair, the short term is now
not just next year – it’s next month, next week.
He is not really interested in sustainable change if it is brought
about by businesses, social enterprises, neighbourhoods, families or
individuals – without a visible link to the actions of his Government.
This is Government governed by appearance, a Government in which – to
use David Blunkett’s immortal phrase – a day without an initiative is
seen as a day wasted.
It is government of the short term, by the short term, for the short term.
The principal task for us is now clear. ‘Social justice and economic
efficiency’ are the common ground of British politics. We have to find
the means of succeeding where the government has failed.
As we set about this task, we have a clear picture in our minds of the
Britain we are trying to build. And we have a clear idea of the way we
are going to build it. We have at last come to terms with our own
victory in the battle of ideas. There is no need to refight those
battles – because they have been won.
We now know that we have the opportunity to combine the preservation of
the Conservative economic inheritance with the resolution of the social
problems which were left unresolved at the end of our time in
government – and which remain unresolved after a thousand short-term
We have a picture in our minds of a Britain in which no child grows up
trapped in the multiple deprivation of family breakdown, drug and
alcohol dependency, decayed housing, dangerous neighbourhoods and poor
We have a picture in our minds of a Britain in which the financial
power of a free, competitive, open market economy is harnessed to
provide first-rate, universally available public services.
But we want to go further than this.
We understand, unlike Labour, that social justice and economic efficiency are not enough to meet people’s aspirations today.
We have a picture in our minds of a Britain in which the quality of
life matters as much as the quantity of money. Where the passions of a
new generation for a more beautiful and a more sustainable environment
are fulfilled. And in which the relief of poverty across the globe is
not an add-on, something additional to our aims, but a central part of
We also know that we cannot build such a Britain in a rush, with a
hailstorm of government initiatives. We know that the only way to build
such a Britain is for government to lay solid foundations upon which
civil society and the individual can rely and then to release the
boundless energies of civil society and of individuals.
Instead of issuing top-down instructions, we will enable bottom-up
solutions. Instead of pulling the same statist levers and expecting
different results, we will respond to state failure by empowering
individuals and civil society. Instead of public service reform at the
pace of the Warwick agreement with the trades unions, we will deliver
the improvements we need through real modernisation. That is what we
mean by trusting people and sharing responsibility.
The change we are making recognises that we have won the battle of ideas.
That, as are result, our aspirations are shared by others on the common
ground of British politics; aspirations for a vibrant open economy; a
decent society in which no-one is left behind; and where everyone who
needs it gets a second chance.
But we should also be clear that the change we are making takes us
beyond those aspirations to see happiness, quality of life, and
environmental sustainability as central goals of progressive government.
Our process of change is also a recognition that, to realize these
aspirations, we need to win the last battle – the battle to replace
short-term bureaucratic fixes with long-term sustainable solutions
brought about by individuals and civil society building on firm
foundations laid by government.
And, as a Conservative Party changed by those recognitions begins to
build a better Britain, we will be fulfilling, not betraying our
We will be showing that we have understood our past, and that we can see the way to our future."