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Tag Archives: Tony Blair

The name of this blog changed this week, changing the ‘Blairite’ to Labourite and I feel that the Labour Party needs to do something similar in changing its leadership. I have not changing from essentially being a Blairite and neither do I want a radical realignment to left for the Labour Party. The key issue is how the Labour views itself and how it divides itself. I changed the name of this blog because the term ‘Blairite’ feels dated and that the term ‘Labourite’ feels timeless, properly representing the Labour movement as a whole.

The real point here is that terms like “New Labour”, “Blairite” and “Brownite” are pointless terms that divide needlessly, and at a time when the Labour Party needs to unite, they are not helpful. The truth is that New Labour was about the modernisers in the 1990s making themselves sound and look different to people’s fears of the Labour Party. It created the opposite term, “old Labour”. Old Labour is a term that is often used by the critics of New Labour, as a means to revert to type, and as a call for the party to move to the left.

But what is “Old Labour”? Is it the party of Kinnock? Yet Kinnock started the modernising agenda, which Blair took further, it would be hard to say he represented old Labour. I hope those that all for old Labour are not so naïve and out of touch to as to hope for a return to the politics of Michael Foot, a leader who was a step out of his time thirty years ago. So what is the old Labour that they aspire towards? The party of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, leaders who themselves were hated by the left and were cast as betrayers of socialism. So what do they want? The truth is, I suspect they do not know, but they do not like the party as led by Blair and Brown, thus Old Labour is identified not by what it should be, but what it is not. Furthermore when Blair and co re-branded Labour as “New Labour”, it was an attempt to portray to middle England that there was no fear in voting Labour, it was an attempt after defeat in 1992 to re-assure marginal voters that they can trust the party. So by saying it was New Labour and by definition, it was not the Old Labour that voters rejected in 1992.

However, it is now a generation since Blair’s rebrand when he was elected leader sixteen years ago and the political, economic and social environment is now different. Thus the Labour party does not need the distinction anymore. It has been in power for thirteen years and it no longer needs to perpetuate the myth of ‘old’ Labour in order to be trusted by the British people. The challenge to the Labour Party has changed significantly, it has to do two things; show that it has learnt from the lessons of power and build a new agenda for the next ten years and more. It is clear now that “New Labour”, is now old Labour.

Yet the same overriding principals need to be maintained in so much as we must not be dogmatic about the means and always focus policy around the core aims and principals of the Labour Party. We need to be focused on social justice and fighting poverty. There is a lot of talk about inequality and fairness, but it is my view that this language clouds the core issues. We should not be interested in whether people at the top of society are getting richer, but be deeply troubled about low incomes. The issues do not change, but the means do, that was the core lesson of New Labour and that has not changed.

And so moving forward the party needs to unite, not be scared of new ideas and debates on how to tackle the core issues. What the Labour needs to do is open up and debate new ideas,  stopping the over centralised power in the party that has been so damaging. New Labour was about renewing and modernising the party, but it failed, and effectively died by not renewing itself. With the leadership contest the party now has the opportunity to renew and challenge itself, in essence the party is going through the process that it was denied in 2007, when the party refused to challenge Gordon Brown. That is the reason that, despite disagreeing with much of what Dianne Abbot says, I hope she gets the nominations required to get on the ballot. I have also changed from endorsing David Milliband, to having a more open mind and will assess all candidates based on what they say over the course of the campaign.

So the penny has finally dropped for Polly Toynbee, the long-winded and sometimes irritating comment veteran for The Guardian, that the great revival of socialism was not coming with the Brown premiership. Brown is in what can be informally termed as a spot of bother, both the economy and his opinion polls are only giving him bad news, whilst there is much discontent amongst his backbenchers. This all culminates in another national poll, which gives David Cameron’s Conservatives a 14 point lead and would send him straight into 10 Downing Street without the need to go begging to Nick Clegg to guarantee a working majority.

Wait a second there. I was told, not just by the weather vain Toynbee, but by others on the Labour left too, the likes of Diane Abbot, Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander, Peter Hain and others all gave assurances that “Gordon was the inevitable leader, who would be a great Prime Minister”. This message or variations on it were constantly spouted in political interviews and features, aligned to the assumption that Blair was an electoral liability.

That’s right. The only Labour leader to win, not two, but three consecutive terms. It was his leadership that took on the early confrontations and won them early on; because dropping clause four and taking on the hegemony of the unions in the Labour Party were long overdue reforms, where other “real Labour” leaders lacked the courage. These were not moves that made him popular because they were popular per se, but because they were the right things for party and country. Britain needed a moderate and effective Labour government after two decades of Tory rule. Blair delivered it and his popularity reflected this. Even in the latter days of this leadership when Iraq dominated his political image, his personal ratings dropped, he still lead the party to an unprecedented third term and saw off David Cameron’s honeymoon to hand over the keys to number 10 with Labour back in command of the polls. Toynbee, still clinging to assumption that Brown is the great socialist leader in waiting, credits the summer’s double-digit poll ratings with Brown. But how could they be Brown’s, he had barely put his posters on the walls when these polls were coming through. Last summer nobody knew what a Brown premiership would be like. How could they be his ratings? All he did in the summer was go on a dinghy in Gloucestershire and tell Andrew Marr that he would deal with the terrorist incidents in Glasgow. That’s it. There’s nothing to indicate how good or bad a PM has is from that.

The autumn was the first major test of Brown as a PM and he failed every test going. He thought and thought and thought and thought some more on whether to hold an early election, to the point where everyone, including those high up in the Labour ranks thought the election was inevitable. Northern Rock collapsed and he threw millions upon millions at it before making the inevitable decision to nationalise. Ok, I could go on, anyone who so much as glances at the Sun every now and then knows this. So what does this mean? It tells us that Brown was not responsible for good poll ratings at the end of last summer, but is responsible for the current disastrous polls.

So has Brown been unlucky? The government could pick up once events are more favourable. But how favourable do events need to be? All leaders have crisis when they are least expected. The only time William Hague edged ahead of Blair was during the fuel blockages. Hague backed the blockages and argued against rises in fuel duty and was duly rewarded in the polls. Less than a year later and a foot and mouth outbreak later, Blair was re-elected with the same size of majority; Hague resigned. They didn’t call him Teflon Tony for nothing. Then two years after a million voters protested over the invasion of Iraq, he won a third term. Blair had many a crisis and each time his leadership enhanced. He had many events go against him, but he weathered each storm and won elections.

This is not the work of an electoral liability that the Labour Party fooled itself into believing: Brown’s propaganda clique fooled it. It took six years of Blair government to suffer resignations over policy. He was undefeated in the Commons in his first two terms. Brown has a spilt cabinet, ministers who wouldn’t vote for him and commons defeats in waiting after less than a year. Blair suffered regular revolts from the so-called awkward squad, a bunch of old leftists who wanted a return to the myths of old Labour. Who is revolting against Brown? Stephen Byers and Stephen Pound; a centrist reformer and the most loyal of loyal MPs. And what are they revolting over? Gordon Brown’s decision to raise income tax on the lowest paid, in order to pay for a middle class subsidy. The lowest paid workers struggling so that middle income voters will be more inclined to vote Labour. That must be the great principal that Toynbee talks about.

The more of a Brown government we have, the more we see the worst of New Labour. The spin, the pandering the Daily Mail, the unprincipled pursuit of middle England, the lack of an overall vision and the opportunism. These have increased under Brown as we watch Cameron waltz’s into Downing Street. Oh, but don’t worry because it was Blair who was the electoral liability.