Blairism was the subject of a conference held at the Finnish Institute in 1998. The contributions for this conference have now been collected in a book called Blairism – a Beacon for Europe? edited by Keijo Rahkonen and Tapani Lausti, published by the Renvall Institute of the University of Helsinki. The book will be available in February 2001 and includes papers from Göran Therborn, Erkki Tuomioja (now the Finnish foreign minister) and Loïc Wacquant. Anthony Giddens, whose ideas the seminar debated, did not want his contribution to be included in the book.

Anthony Barnett, who knows a lot about Tony Blair’s policies, read an advance copy of the book and sank into a dream-like state. He started to imagine, how it all will be seen in 700 years, when the book will be dug up by future scholars…

Blairism, 700 years on

By Anthony Barnett

This 700 year old mansucript which records a dispute about “Blairism” is known to scholars as the “Fin-nish manuscript” after the monastery in which it was copied. It remains a source of considerable controversy.

What exactly is the strange heresy of “Blairism” which the priests who complied the manuscript clearly regard as dangerous? “Blairism” is mentioned in no other surviving source. Apart from the traces in these few torn pages it has completely disappeared. The heresy of “Blairism” seems to be associated with King Tony. But he was famous, in so far as we know anything about him, for his pragmatism not his beliefs. He was skilled at winning the peculiar “winner takes all” contests characteristic of the English monarchy of the time which other parts of late medieval Europe had abandoned. (It is argued by some to be related to an even more ancient Polish practice when knights elected their King.) But from what we know of King Tony there were few causes he did not attempt to embrace at one time or another as he kept on to his throne through the period of great upheaval known as “globalisation”. How could such a King have also led a dangerous breakaway religious sect - when such religious leaders need to be exceptionally determined and persistent in their beliefs?

The grave difficulty we face in trying to decipher the meaning of this ancient, partial manuscript, can be illustrated by examining what specialists call the “intervention” of one of the monks involved, Father Erkki Tuomioja. According to the manuscript he claimed that the basic point about Blairism “is that I do not know what it is”.

Now if Father Tuomioja were an advocate and follower of “Blairism” we could interpret his remarks with some confidence. He would be saying that it is akin to the Holy Spirit, both everywhere and nowhere, the light that lights up the knowledge and is not the knowledge itself.  “Blairism” is also referred to in this extraordinary, rare manuscript, as a “Third Way”. Sometimes, indeed, as “the” Third Way. The term was originally a Catholic concept developed by the Vatican about a century before King Tony and the Holy Spirit is a trinitarian conception. We also know that, before he became a Buddhist, King Tony tried to convince his followers that he was a Catholic. Under this interpretation, “Blairism” would be a variety of the many “Ecstasy” heresies which arose in response to the tragedy and excitements of “globalisation”. The basic point of being a “Blairist”, according to this interpretation, would be to refine one’s consciousness to such a pitch that one no longer knew what one was.

However, it seems clear from the context in this manuscript (even though one or two scholars have tried to argue the opposite) that Father Tuomioja is in fact opposed to “Blairism”. That he is attacking the heresy and is not an advocate of it. In which case we have to puzzle about why he apparently travelled many long “miles” as the English of King Tony’s period called distance, in order to condemn it. If he didn’t know what it was, why would it be so dangerous and why would he “hope” that something good would come of it?

Another peculiarity of the manuscript is easier to explain. Most of the clerics and monks who were involved in the debate in the Fin-nish Monastery are very agitated by the work of what seems to be the heresy’s leading advocate, whom they refer to as “Tony Giddens”. But his contribution is missing. It could be lost. But it seems more likely that the orthodox scribes whose copy of the material has come down to us simply censored it because it was so heretical. They or their authorities permitted only the attacks upon it to be transcribed.

This is a great pity because we do have another manuscript by “Tony Giddens LSE”. (The English at the time often put initials after their name such as CBE - which meant “Commander of the British Empire”. It is thought that LSE meant “Lord of Southern England”.) Some scholars argue that the two Giddens are the same person. Others claim that this cannot be the case. The manuscript of Tony Giddens LSE is famous for its call for the “democratisation of democracy”. This is the slogan which inspired a movement which eventual overthrew the English winner-takes-all monarchy, a century after King Tony’s rule.

Some scholars insist that it is not possible that this Giddens is the same person as the advocate of the “Blairism” heresy, which is evidently a centralising, royalist mysticism. Others, however, suggest that Giddens’ approach - known in the terminology of the period as “cool” - might have been just the sort of thing to have attracted King Tony at one point or another in his reign. The argument over whether or not the two Giddens are the same is known as “The Giddens controversy” and can be followed in The Interactive Network of Late Medieval Northern Europe Specialists.

What else can be drawn from the manuscript about the problems of the time? It is clear that the well-being of the Kingdom of England is at the heart of the controversy. The priests from England while acknowledging that their Kingdom does not work well and is badly off nonetheless think that they are better than everybody else and have seen the way forward. The priests who are not from England seem to be annoyed about this. Father Göran Therborn shows at very great length that England is much poorer than anywhere else in Northern Europe. He also shows that “globalisation” cannot explain why they are poorer because the countries that are, by his measurements, the most “globalised” also have the least poor people thanks to the system of medieval welfare which it took another two hundred years to eliminate.

Father Tuomioja is the most cross with King Tony. He seems to think that the English, being always behind, suffer from the problem. Namely, that the only way they could be persuaded to try and catch up with other countries was by being persuaded that they were “in the lead”. However, the direction called “Blairism” - if indeed, this was the heresy King Tony embraced at time of the dispute in the Fin-nish monestary - was, according to Father Tuomioja leading in the wrong direction. Despite their poverty, it seems that the English of the time had a rough energy and self-confidence which could convince others in Northern Europe to follow them, even though they did not need to. Whether they were influenced by Father Tuomioja’s warning we cannot tell.

Anthony Barnett was the founding Director of Charter 88, the influential movement for the constitutional reform of the United Kingdom. He is the author of the classic Iron Britannia, editor of Power and the Throne and the author of This Time : Our Constitutional Revolution.


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