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Its contempt for the French socialists is palpable; it believes it has nothing to learn from the German SPD and it seems more at home with Clinton’s suburbanised New Democrats than with any left-of-centre European party.
Like the Thatcher governments before it, New Labour espouses a version of the entrepreneurial ideal of the early 19th century.
It disdains traditional elites and glorifies self-made meritocrats, but it sees no reason why successful meritocrats should not enjoy the full fruits of their success: it is for widening opportunity, not for redistributing reward.
For New Labour, talent has to be nurtured before it arrives at the marketplace; and state intervention has to nurture it. Having won in fair competition, the winners are entitled to their gains; indeed, they occupy the most honoured places in the social pantheon.
Investment in human capital is the key, both to individual opportunity and to national competitiveness; only the state can ensure that the investment is adequate and fairly distributed. The social vision is closer to Thatcherism than to any other tendency in postwar British history. As for the losers, their duty is to lick their wounds and return as soon as possible to the fray: New Labour has no patience with whingers or shirkers. Underpinning the individualistic, mobile, competitive society is a dirigiste workfare state which would have warmed the cockles of Beatrice Webb’s heart.
In practice, they assumed that centralisation was the only possible vehicle for marketisation; that if they were to hobble or crush the manifold institutional and cultural obstacles to their free-market utopia, they would have to make the maximum possible use of the powers which the ancient British doctrine of absolute and inalienable parliamentary sovereignty confers on the government of the day.
This, of course, was the great paradox of Thatcherism.
A meritocratic society is one in which the state takes action to raise the level of the talents-particularly the talents of the disadvantaged-which the market proceeds to reward. That leads on to a third, more paradoxical, difference.
Like the Thatcher and Major governments, the Blair government looks across the Atlantic for inspiration, not across the Channel.
Margaret Thatcher was a warrior; Tony Blair is a healer. Where she spoke of “enemies within,” he speaks of “the people.” The Thatcherites saw themselves as a beleaguered minority, surrounded by insidious, relentless and powerful enemies.
There were always new battles to fight, new obstacles to uproot, new heresies to stamp out.