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You can't help but find yourself nodding in sage agreement as you read Tony Blair's Observer article on the riots.  Both in print and in speech, the old persuader still has the capacity to combine compromise with and critique of other positions in a way that makes him look like the greyest of grey beards.  But being a great sophist doesn't make you Socrates.  There seems to be one major contradiction at the heart of what he says.

You can't help but find yourself nodding in sage agreement as you read Tony Blair's Observer article on the riots.  Both in print and in speech, the old persuader still has the capacity to combine compromise with and critique of other positions in a way that makes him look like the greyest of grey beards.  But being a great sophist doesn't make you Socrates.  There seems to be one major contradiction at the heart of what he says.

Blair is undoubtedly right that Britain is not in the grip of some deep moral breakdown which will soon see a return to the ethics of neolithic era.  And he is right that for every looter, there are hundreds of committed, hard-working young people in Britain. His claim that there is a sizeable group of highly dysfunctional families across the UK that cause trouble for both poor and rich alike is also credible. 

But the problem in the article is the dissonance between an apparent awareness that there are systemic problems at play here and his proposed solutions. 

In a telling paragraph (that seems to me something of a departure from established New Labour positions) he writes:

I do think there are major issues underlying the anxieties reflected in disturbances and protests in many nations. One is the growing disparity of incomes not only between poor and rich but between those at the top and the aspiring middle class. Another is the paradigm shift in economic and political influence away from the west. Each requires substantial change in the way we think and function.

He seems to be admitting that there is something pretty systemic going on here. In essence, he is saying that inequality and the current trajectory of globalisation are behind a deep unease, and even disturbances, not just in the UK but across the world.  Problems deep enough to require a real change not just in the way we think but also the way we live.

So it then seems something of a leap backwards to suggest that the solution to the problems behind the riots is an intensification of the well-established New Labour prescriptions of early stage intervention with troubled kids and their families and action on anti-social behaviour and gangs.  It's as though, our ex-PM has an intimation that something quite serious is going wrong but can't quite find a policy response of appropriate breadth and depth.  It feels like technocracy when we need vision.

That is not to say his policy prescriptions are wrong in themselves.  But surely they need setting in a wider context of that more profound change in outlook and behaviour he mentions. 

Of course, Blair is far from alone in suffering a sort of policy dissonance.  Most people, not in hock to some easy ideology, are in the same boat.  There may be deep unease amongst the populations of the advanced economies but it is matched by a growing angst amongst policy-makers that reality is starting to outrun established solutions.  Blair's article reveals that with more clarity than he probably intended.

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