As we brace ourselves for the 20th anniversary of New Labour’s seismic 1997 election victory we can use the occasion to recognize the supreme irony that the crowning outcome of Tony Blair’s legacy has not been to remake social democracy for the 21st century but instead to prove the value of conservatism.
Tony Blair’s government is a textbook case study on the hazards of pursuing change for its own sake, of disregarding one’s cultural and political inheritance and in evidencing the dystopian consequences that all too often arise when attempting to impose idealistic visions onto society.
Conservative thought has been shaped by witnessing the chaos wrought by world changing schemes. From the French revolution to Bolsehvism, conservatives often depend on the memory of these idealistic experiments gone awry to remind them why they are conservatives in the first place. In Britain’s recent democratic history, few individuals serve this purpose better than Tony Blair.
There are three clear examples from Blair’s legacy that justify the merits of conservatism.
The Iraq war was the single greatest act of utopian folly since the fall of Communism. Part self-defence and part humanitarian intervention, the war was intended to protect the West from Saddam Hussein’s chemical arsenal and to remake Iraqi society in the manner of a Western style democracy.
Far from acknowledging that successful democracies don’t merely appear out of nowhere but have been preceded by quite specific levels of historical development stretching back hundreds of years, the Coalition of the Willing decreed that Iraqi democracy and all the attendant benefits it would bring was going to be imposed at gunpoint by an occupying force.
An ambitious state-building venture was launched as if it was genuinely believed an Islamic Arab society supremely complex in all of its political, social, religious, tribal and cultural spheres and hobbled by generations of brutal despotism was really just a nascent secular liberal democracy where the presence of the US military in Baghdad would transform the country into a middle-eastern version of Ohio.
I'm sure Tony Blair had many intentions when he committed Britain to military action in Iraq. However I can't imagine it involved instigating a Sunni-Shia sectarian civil war resulting in almost half a million deaths, allowing Iraq to become flooded with terrorists from across the middle east and then upon departing from the country subjecting many of Iraq’s citizens to the rule of an apocalyptic end-times death cult intent on resurrecting the Islamic Caliphate and believing itself to hold divine sanction to violently enact the fulfilment of Koranic eschatalogy.
One cannot separate the idealistic motives that led to the war from the horrific outcomes it generated. The conviction that compelled Bush and Blair to believe they were following some natural historical process in spreading western democracy to Mesopotamia were the same convictions that led to the casual dismantling of the social and political infrastructure that, however imperfectly, had held Iraqi society together and in its place unleashed violent upheaval and social breakdown.
Essentially, the aftermath of the Iraq war unfolded in precisely the manner an acquaintance with Edmund Burke could have warned Tony Blair it would have done.
We disturb the foundations of stable and enduring institutions at our peril. By changing or reforming them we can hinder the very reasons that they happen to be successful in the first place.
The Act of Union had existed for 300 years, had brought unparalleled peace and prosperity to the islands of Britain and had done a marvellous job of containing its tribal nationalisms.
Yet, the spectre of Scottish nationalism was deemed by Blair to be such an imposing threat that the creation of devolved legislatures for Scotland and Wales were considered essential to ensuring the continued existence of the United Kingdom.
Did it never occur to Mr Blair that the UK's constitutional makeup, designed specifically to unite the nations of our island, had performed its duties so effectively that at the time of Blair’s election as Labour leader the forces representing Caledonian secessionism had 3 MPs and routinely came third in the Scottish popular vote?
It seems not, or if it did this was overruled by the arrogant desire of Scottish Labour to have their own national fiefdom from where they believed they would rule in perpetuity. The only notable achievement of devolution has been to furnish the SNP with the means to become Scotland’s government and to offer them a clear direction towards partitioning the United Kingdom. They almost succeeded once, they may yet triumph.
And there lies the awful legacy that Tony Blair has bequeathed to Britain – reigniting the forces of divisive nationalism, descending Scotland into perpetual constitutional turmoil and ruining its relations with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Beware restless constitutional vandals proffering reform.
Tony Blair’s New Labour initiated the largest social change in Britain’s recent history where between 1997-2010, his government allowed the influx of 3.6 million foreign migrants.
Motivated by a desire to make Britain more diverse, modern and multicultural as well as sensing an opportunity to create lots of new potential Labour voters, Tony Blair believed this unprecedented wave of mass immigration would transform Britain for the better.
One would imagine that the historic party of Britain’s working class would consult with their constituents before they considered importing millions of workers to directly compete with them for jobs, housing and access to services. Alas, no such deliberations were considered and it can only be assumed that Tony Blair believed Labour’s working class supporters would be as enthusiastic as he was about the impending transformation of their communities.
When Mr Blair embarked on this sweeping change one doubts he ever entertained the thought that it would result in leading Britain out of his beloved European Union, a political project he believed was essential to Britain’s future.
However, Blair’s mass immigration policy alienated Britain’s working classes to such a degree that it inspired a populist backlash which gradually built up through the rise of UKIP and then found its full expression in Britain’s decision to exit the European Union.
Simply stated - no mass immigration, no resentment in working class communities, no UKIP surge, no Conservative manifesto commitment to an in/out EU referendum and no polling day uprising leading to the UK leaving the EU. One led seamlessly to the other.
Regardless of one’s views on the European Union, the process by which Brexit came about is a glaring reminder of the perils of seeking to impose profound change on the existing social order.
Conservatives know that utopian endeavours to reshape the world often result in adverse consequences and they accept the limited ability of humans to mould the world around them. Conservatism acknowledges that social order is fragile, difficult to achieve and easy to damage and if conservatives have one piece of advice it is to be wary of radical schemes that go against the grain of human nature.
It is important to acknowledge the negative lessons of the New Labour project. Tony Blair is a living and breathing example of why one should be a conservative.