Paul Foot

The dream of Tony Blair

(26 August 1995)

From Socialist Worker, No.1457, 26 August 1995, p.11.
Copyright © Estate of Paul Foot. Published on MIA with the permission of the Estate. Paul Foot Internet Archive ( 2005.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DOES TONY Blair dream? Does he have a vision of what could be? The answer is yes, and I can prove it.

I’ve been reading an article in the London Evening Standard of 8 January 1993. It was not written by the teenage son of a Tory cabinet minister, though it could have been.

The author was Tony Blair, then Labour’s front bench spokesman for home affairs. He was glowing with enthusiasm and delight after a glimpse of the New World.

He had just come back from Washington, which was excitedly preparing for the inauguration of the new president of the United States of America, Bill Clinton. What struck the impressionable Blair was the democratic, even proletarian, spirit of the new presidential order.

“Bill Clinton will arrive in Washington,” Blair reported, “not on the presidential plane or in a bulletproof limousine or even, a specially chartered train. He will come by bus ...”

Blair explained that this unlikely form of transport (Clinton has probably never travelled in a bus since) was symbolic of a “people’s inauguration ceremony designed to reflect both the populism of the anti-establishment campaign that won him his presidency and the new dynamism of an administration pledged to the theme of national renewal”.

Too specific

Everywhere, Blair reported, there was change – the new faces of the new government included a woman attorney general, a former civil rights lawyer devoted to law reform, a vice-president who for the first time for years sat down for talks with trade union leaders from the motor car industry, and a “British educated” Labour secretary with “ideas for transforming education and training”.

Comparing the “energy and drive” of the new Democrats in America with the “fatigue of our Conservative government” left Tony Blair feeling, he admitted, a “little envious”.

But even in his excitement and enthusiasm, Blair did not forget his most consistent political characteristic: caution. Clinton’s policy for the election, he thought, was “over detailed”, too specific about promises which might not be kept.

“Great expectations”, he warned, “are never wholly fulfilled.” Moreover, “much can go wrong as the new administration is buffeted by events”. And it was therefore loo early to tell” whether Clinton will “ring in the changes he has promised”.

Clinton’s promises, Blair conceded, might not be fulfilled – but so what? The real aim of the campaign – victory at the polls – had been achieved. That was far more important than what might follow.

Blind blundering

The process of a form of politics which starts and ends at elections had come to its logical conclusion. The election victory was a dream far more vital than any nightmare which might follow.

How does Tony Blair feel, therefore, as he contemplates the wreckage of the Clinton administration, the surrender of every economic and social reform, the hesitation and blind blundering which have been followed inevitably by one of the nastiest reactionary backlashes ever seen in the reactionary history of United States policies?

Does he flinch as the reforming welfare advisers he celebrated cut the pittances of dole and benefits which even George Bush tolerated; as those reforming civil rights lawyers he praised preside over the mass executions of prisoners on Death Row; as the new talks with the union leaders develop into a new burst of anti-union legislation and official strikebreaking? Does any of this make him flinch from his 1993 hero worship of the Clinton-Gore gang?

Not at all. They won the election, didn’t they, and what else matters?


Last updated on 12.2.2005