Is Boris Johnson the Blairite who may not speak his name?
All the PM’s talk of levelling up rather than levelling down? That is pure, plagiarised Blairism.
Fixing public services – like chaotic Northern Rail – with a focus on what works, rather than an ideological attachment to private sector or public sector ownership?
That would be Blairism mirrored – inverted in the sense that Blair’s mission with Labour supporters was to make the case for the private sector, whereas Johnson needs to remove the stigma of public ownership for Tories.
As for allowing Huawei to build a third of the UK’s new superfast digital networks – more than a hint there of Blairite triangulation, in that by creating incentives and pressure to squeeze out Huawei over time, there is an attempt to reconcile the Tories’ manifesto promise to roll out new digital services as soon as possible with his Tory colleagues’ anxieties about giving a Chinese colossus such a pivotal position in critical infrastructure.
And conspicuously both talk up and talked up toughness on crime and on causes of crime – though perhaps with differently calibrated weightings of importance.
If Blairism meant anything, it was the politics of not taking a side, of keeping everyone in the tent, of sidestepping the hardest choices.
Johnson’s Blairism is definitely bamboozling Labour.
The opposition’s leading lights swing between accusing him of being the most right-wing British PM ever (which is frankly nuts), to complaining he is nicking their ideas (e.g. on rail nationalisation).
Of course this kind of political label never fits anyone immaculately: not Johnson, who certainly made a divisive and real choice in leading the journey to Brexit, and not even Blair, during his Iraq war years.
But for all of Blair and Johnson’s mutual animosity over the UK’s relationship with the EU, they have more in common – psychologically, emotionally, in their broad political strategies – then either would probably concede.
Strikingly both also have the confidence to defer to their respective Richelieus, their senior counsellors and courtiers: Mandelson/Campbell for Blair, Cummings/Cain for Johnson.
There is also something eerily familiar about the way that Johnson’s aides are marginalising and disfavouring media organisations they see as the enemy. It is all very Campbell and Mandelson.
Even geopolitically, in this almost post-Brexit UK, they share more than they would admit. Like Blair, Johnson is setting himself up as a bridge between Europe and the US, friend to each, poodle of neither.
But here is the dilemma for the Tory party.
People-pleasing Blairism delivered 13 unbroken years of Labour rule from 1997.
If Johnson is the last of the true Blairites, maybe he will have a similarly long-lived hegemonic reward.
But the Newtonian reaction to Blair was Corbyn – a loser of two successive elections.
The politics of not taking sides usually leads to a hunger to take sides, as is now manifest in the Labour Party.
So there will ultimately be a price for the Tories of Johnsonian Blairism. But since it is probably years away, they will pretend it does not exist.
Robert Peston is ITV’s Political Editor. This article originally appeared on his ITV news blog.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.