The New Labour Experiment: Change and Reform Under Blair and Brown
Florence Faucher-King , Changing Parties. Parliamentary Affairs , 71 1 , pp. DOI: DOI Parliamentary Affairs , 68 4 , pp OxPo and of CamPo. Health is a more complex tale, and it differs across the four nations of the British Isles. In England, there has been a clear shift to mixed public-private provision but it is too early to assess the effects of these changes.
Clearly, there has been a massive injection of public spending, although by international standards the UK is still well down the league table of spending on health. There has been a similar injection of cash in education but again the long-term outcomes are uncertain.
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If everything is a target, nothing is a target. There are the cock-ups—for example, privatising air traffic control, the railways, tax credit payments, reform of the House of Lords, passports. There are the disasters that discredit governments. Finally, there is the rest of the world. Over Iraq, for example, not only did Blair have to persuade international leaders on the case for war, which he conspicuously failed to do, he also had to maintain support at home, which he did but at the price of eroding his authority in the party and with the electorate.
John Kampfner  describes the extent of the opposition to the invasion of Iraq in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The rebellion by Labour MPs was the largest ever and the public demonstration in London was the biggest in decades. Even the Cabinet was uncertain, verging on divided. Part of the political cost of Iraq was that it created in the public mind an image of their prime minister as preoccupied with fixing the world rather than running Britain.
The irony is that this political damage to the Labour government was a self-inflicted wound. It could have been avoided by listening to the majority who were opposed to the war. All governments fail some of the time. All governments are constrained by world events. All prime ministers intervene. Few control and then only for some policies, some of the time. Maybe, as Enoch Powell said, all political careers end in failure. The problems the Blair government shares with all others have been compounded by two problems of his making: conflicts at the centre and his management style.
What he wants is results. He has a feel for policies but not how the results come. He comes back to this when one or other of the policy areas gets hot: education, then transport and now health. I have told stories about the dependence of the prime minister on the court politics of the core executive and on the networks of service delivery.
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I have also pointed to the importance of party support, and the impact of political adventures in the international arena on domestic politics. Some of the claims about the changing pattern of political leadership in Britain are accurate. It helps to distinguish between the electoral, policy making and implementation arenas.
First, personalisation is a prominent feature of media management and electioneering in Britain. If I must use presidential language, it is here in the electoral arena that it is most apt.
Blair is the figurehead. But this statement must be qualified immediately because the court politics of the duumvirate fits uncomfortably with the notion of monocratic leadership. Brown played a pre-eminent role on the election. But who stood beside Tony Blair in the first Labour Party electoral broadcast?
Milburn retired again. It was simple.
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It was brutal. Blair needed Brown and Brown judged it in his interests to cooperate.
The rest of us wonder whether Brown still held firm to his view that there was nothing Blair could ever say to him now that he could ever believe and, if so, was the deal on leadership succession confirmed in writing? In the policy-making arena, there is some truth to the claim that Blair centralised policymaking on No.
The continuous reform of the centre speaks of the failure of coordination, not its success. Here, other senior government figures, ministers and their departments, and other agencies are key actors. Similarly, although personalisation can affect implementation, that effect is intermittent.
Too often, the presidential thesis treats intervention as control.
There is much that goes on in British government about which the Prime Minister knows little and affects even less. And all these arenas are embedded in dependence on domestic and international agencies and governments, making command and control strategies counter productive. So, we have a paradox.
On the one hand, journalists, political scientists, and practitioners are telling tales of a Blair presidency characterised by centralisation, personalisation and pluralisation. On the other, the same people recount governance stories in which British politics consists of fragmented policy making and policy implementation networks over which a core executive maintains a fragile—and increasingly fraught—influence.
I want to draw attention to two ways of interpreting this paradox. First, all the chatter about a Blair presidency is a counter both in the court politics of the duumvirate and in wider party politics.
So, it matters not that the presidential analogy is misleading because the game is not about empirical accuracy but about expressing hostility to Blair in particular and the Labour government in general. The critics have several specific targets.
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So the term is a smoke screen behind which lurk several criticisms of Blair and the Labour government. Conversely, when critics bemoan the demise of Cabinet government, what exactly has been lost?
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Weller  distinguishes between the Cabinet as the constitutional theory of ministerial and collective responsibility, as a set of rules and routines, as the forum for policymaking and coordination, as a political bargaining arena between central actors, and as a component of the core executive. To suggest that Blair has abandoned the doctrine of collective responsibility is nonsense. Leaks are abhorrent. Unity is essential to electoral success.
Dissenters go. To suggest that any prime minister in the post-war period has adhered to anything but a pragmatic view of individual ministerial responsibility is equally foolish. But what are they acting as a smoke screen for? Why do so many people who describe British governance as multipolar, nonetheless constantly talk about a Blair presidency?
I argue the paradox arises because of the bewitching effect of the Westminster Model of British politics. In the need to preserve Westminster fictions, the tales of presidentialism are a smoke screen behind which we find a widespread acceptance of the governance story. If a commentator accepts any version of the governance narrative, with its stress on interdependence, then any tale of a Blair presidency will be undermined. Command and control mix with interdependence and cooperation like oil and water.
The New Labour Experiment: Change and Reform Under Blair and Brown
The interweaving of the two tales is obvious if I revisit briefly the accounts of Foley and Weller. Both are core themes in the governance narrative. Again both are key notions in the governance narrative. So how does the Westminster Model infuse talk of a Blair presidency? Of course, there is no agreed version of the Westminster model. There are at least three possible versions: Tory, Whig and Socialist. Philip Norton is a Tory and a combative defender of the UK constitution against all comers.