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New Left Review 4, July-August 2000


ROSS McKIBBIN

TREADING WATER?

Peter Mair presents an argument that is bold and very interesting—above all, because it provides a coherent account of the Blair government’s ‘constitutional’ politics which does, indeed, eliminate the apparent ‘paradox’ at the centre of the Third Way. [1] See ‘Partyless Democracy: Solving the Paradox of New Labour?’, NLR 2, March–April 2000. Responses to it by David Marquand and Anthony Barnett were published in NLR 3, May–June 2000. I admire this attempt while not being wholly convinced by it; in part, because it works better as a description of what has happened than as an explanation. There seem to me several problems which have not been and probably cannot be disposed of by Mair’s argument. The first is his major premise: that ‘it hardly seems enough to suggest that Blair and his colleagues don’t know what they’re doing’. But if history teaches us any lessons, one of them is surely that politicians very frequently do not. Mair’s assumption to the contrary is surprising. Thus, for example, his interpretation of the government’s House of Lords reforms—that they are considered attempts to place expertise above faction—may be plausible. But it is, at the moment, no more plausible than one that suggests they are a dog’s breakfast—a combination of existing party caucuses and appointive notables, with a dash of elected figures and a hereditary rump—cooked up by people who really do not know where they are going.

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