The Blair supremacy: A study in the politics of Labour's party management.

Author:Minkin, Lewis
Position:Book review

Manchester: Manchester University Press



Reviewed by Eric Shaw

Lewis Minkin's research into New Labour's party management offers indispensable lessons for those concerned with the party's current managerial problems, showing the limits to the 'Blair supremacy' and its long-term effects in alienating some party members. A managerial philosophy and strategy which places less emphasis on obedience to the majority will and more on consultation, minority rights and the patient resolution of differences is the route to reuniting the party now.

This book consolidates Lewis Minkin's reputation as the Labour party's most accomplished scholar. It is indispensable reading for all--including MPs, political advisers and journalists--with an interest in how the party works. Drawing upon a huge number of interviews as well as his own experience observing and advising the party, Minkin analyses the sources, nature, limits and consequences of Blairite party management, or what he calls 'the Blair supremacy'. This is a huge work (800 pages) so in this article I will concentrate on two broad areas: Minkin's core arguments and the light his work casts on the party's current managerial problems.

Minkin locates the origins of Blairite managerial thinking in the formative historical experience of its central protagonists, the internal strife that tore the party apart in the early 1980s. Blair, Brown and their allies were resolved to end what they saw as the party's 'dangerous proclivity to public exhibitions of internal conflict' (p.131). Obsessed by what they saw as the party's 'lurch into extremism' 'New Labour' was driven, Minkin cites one minister as saying, by 'an icy determination that it was not going to happen again' (p.130). Hence the core New Labour principle of party management: an electable party was one that was tightly managed and regulated.

But in whose interest? Minkin's central proposition is that Blair's transformation of Labour was based not on consent, that is the willing endorsement of the New Labour 'Project' but on a mixture of command and control and manipulative politics. Early in the Blair years, and with great fanfare, the report Partnership in Power had announced a radically new approach to framing policy. In place of the traditional adversarial and centralised style of policy-making Partnership in Power introduced new institutions such as the National Policy Forum, animated by the principles of inclusivity, dialogue and partnership.

But hopes were soon dashed. Minkin shows, with a compelling wealth of evidence, how much of this new structure amounted to little more than a dignified facade masking a covert managerial coup' designed to fasten the leaders' grasp over all key institutions (p.700). The outcome was an 'unprecedented build-up of the role of Leader' (p.136), a new form of 'managed democracy' which was used to drive through the New Labour agenda. Minkin's scrupulous investigations demonstrate that that none of New Labour...

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