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|´How to Be Like Tony Blair´ Five Good Advice to Matteo Renzi|
L´Espresso - December 13, 2013
So the whole world now knows what Italians have known for years: that Matteo Renzi fancies himself as Italy’s Tony Blair. Presumably, what Renzi has in mind is not today’s Blair as globe-trotting multi-millionaire adviser to the J.P. Morgan bank and to Central Asian dictators but rather the man who ended what Renzi calls “his party’s tradition of losing elections” and became Britain’s youngest prime minister for 200 years. But what does this actually mean?
When Blair was elected leader of his Labour party in 1994, at the age of 40, many people thought that although he was clearly a great communicator, he was nevertheless too superficial, too lightweight, too inexperienced to really succeed. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Clearly, by becoming the most successful Labour leader ever, winning three successive elections, he proved the doubters wrong—even if he later won plenty of enemies too. So here is a five-point plan for how to be Italy’s Blair.
Renzi has already carried out the first: capture your party, don’t pretend you can just win by being a TV personality. Everyone needs a base, an organization. To emulate Blair, he now needs to add a further characteristic: patience. It wasn’t directly Blair’s choice, but after becoming leader he then had three years in which to consolidate his grip on his party, to build a strong team, and to make a proper plan for winning elections.
Which leads to the second point: hire a really sharp communicator, even if you think you are brilliant yourself. You cannot be a one-man-band. Communication is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job, which needs more than just flair and talent: it needs skill, experience, planning and dedication. That is what Blair got when he hired Alastair Campbell, a former tabloid journalist.
What a true professional will then advise is point three: do your research, and do it nationwide. Don’t just go to public meetings in piazzas and talk to your adoring fans. You must use all the techniques of modern market research to find out what voters are worried about, what voters want, and what voters think of your messages. Someone like Renzi has a great instinct for this, as did Blair. But instinct isn’t enough.
So in 1994-97 Blair, Campbell and their great campaign guru, Peter (now Lord) Mandelson, annoyed the old Labour dinosaurs by becoming like advertising men, using surveys and “focus groups” all over the country to find out what people were thinking. Nowadays they would also be analyzing the “big data” of all kinds that is available.
Their aim was one they learned from their own role model, President Bill Clinton. He had showed that the way to win was not to appeal just to your traditional supporters, especially in the modern, post-ideological age. You should appeal to all kinds of voters, not just the old left. That is point four.
Blair’s motto was that Labour must win the support not just of the poor and the working class, but also of the 60% of the British population who owned their own houses, who earned average wages, who lived in affluent areas. Clinton, especially after his heavy defeat in Congressional elections in 1994, coined a term, “triangulation”, which means finding ways to build consensus even with your opponents. Blair called his approach “the third way”, neither left nor right. Gerhard Schroeder, the successful Social Democrat Chancellor in Germany from 1998-2005, who is today credited with the reforms that have made his country Europe’s strongest, called it the “neue mitte”, the new centre.
Old supporters will call you a traitor. And in some ways you will be, for if you are to succeed you will need to be a liberalizer, freeing up markets and accepting that only private businesses can create jobs today in Italy. Moreover, like Schroeder, you will want to reform labour laws. So point five is that to be like Blair you will also need a big, meaningful policy, ready to be implemented as soon as you win office, to reassure that you also care about the poor and vulnerable. Blair’s was a national minimum wage introduced in 1998, the first Britain had ever had. What will yours be, Matteo?