Saturday, January 06, 2007

Tony Blair and the Ideal Type

A book review I wrote for the most recent issue of Political Studies Review.

Tony Blair and the Ideal Type by J.H. Grainger - Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2005. 98pp., £8.95, ISBN 1 84540 024 0

This small pamphlet by J.H. Grainger, an Australian political scientist, attempts to add a new and interesting interpretation to discussion of Tony Blair by drawing on the idea of Max Weber’s hypothetical ‘ideal type’ politician; an excellent example of which Grainger argues is to be found as current British Prime Minister.

Grainger goes on to present Blair as this ‘ideal type’: the outsider to the traditions of British politics and the Labour Party with no particular political background, lacking in ideology, vacuous and chameleon like, a politician that thrives in the modern politics of charisma and spin. Grainger tears into how Blair’s personality and approach to campaigning emphasises familiarity with the voting public taking precedence over policies and concrete ideas. When ideas are put forward they often embrace agendas that can range from Liberal to Conservative, Marxist to Thatcherite, and not forgetting, neoconservative. That such a political creature could reach the highest elected political office in the kingdom is thanks to the break Thatcher wrought to the traditions of British politics. Indeed, it is a well worn avenue of exploration that Blair has no set agenda, no set convictions, no political soul of ideological substance; many have searched his speeches and ideas for some holy grail of a common thread uniting them all and all have inevitably failed. Grainger’s analysis offers an overarching theory to explain this.

Grainger analysis is a powerful one bringing together discussion of British history, society, ideology along with global and European trends, offering in turn some profound comments on the type of individual Blair is and what his premiership says about the directions British politics is headed. He does however overestimate the power of the office of Prime Minister, and at times his approach is too cynical. The single biggest problem I and indeed many readers will face with this pamphlet is the verbose and bombastic style in which the pamphlet is written. This turgid and hard going pamphlet therefore offers some good insights, but much clearer and equally insightful analyses of Blair are easily available elsewhere.