The Legacy of Blair

As the political conference season gets into full swing, something strikes me very forcibly.  The British political landscape is now the flattest, blandest vista imaginable, and we have one man to thank for it.

For the first time in decades, Britain has a coalition government, yet it isn't failing, as many predicted it would.  It isn't a roaring success, either, but it hasn't collapsed under the weight of its ideological baggage.  Why is this?  Because the three main parties are now almost indistinguishable.

Look at David Cameron and Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband and try to tell them apart.  They look the same, they dress the same way, they behave the same way, they talk the same way, and their policies are so equally unimaginative that they might just as well form a three-way ruling party.

Cameron is a gentried twerp, Clegg a budget airline gentried twerp, and Ed Milliband is just a smile drawn onto a potato.  They exude shiny nothingness, like a Vettriano painting.  And why do they do this?  Because it worked for Tony Blair.

In 1997, he seemed a breath of fresh air, a change from the greyness of Major and the long-term destructionism of Thatcher.  It soon became clear that he was fresh air in the way that a chemical toilet masks the smell of excreta.  But boy was he popular - three general elections, ten years in power, and New Labour pushing the Conservatives to the brink of oblivion.

His luck failed him eventually, but Blair's legacy was set in stone.  No longer could you have a human being in charge of your party, like Charles Kennedy or John Smith or even our grey friend Mr Major.  You had to have a blank-slate automoton, onto which the puppeteers could project whatever they thought would most appease the disengaged populace.

Nowhere was this demonstrated more clearly than with Gordon Brown.  As hard as he tried to, he couldn't pretend to be Blair.  As the Gillian Duffy case revealed, Brown was too human, with the same failings and prejudices as the rest of us.

So he lost power, and a new leader was selected.  One who would offend no-one, but who therefore could not challenge anyone either.

As a consequence, there is no opposition.  Milliband can't disagree with Clegg who can't disagree with Cameron because they don't have any strident views of their own.  They just smile and make thoughtful-looking hand gestures and repeat the same vacuous soundbites over and over again.

And those of us who retain an ounce of radicalism are left clinging to a desperate hope that something will suddenly change.  That Ken Clarke and Vince Cable and John Prescott can somehow wrest control of their parties' reins, and even if we hate two of them, or all of them, at least we'll have something to get passionate about again.