by David Talbot
The charge was made infamous by Unite’s Len McCluskey who, in typically robust style, refuted comments made by the Labour MP and former Shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson.
That the former general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union had the audacity to attack the trade union movement in the organ that they most despise, Progress, ensured that this former comrade had joined the dead roll-call of “Blairite zombies”. Indeed, the moniker is seemingly used to tar anyone who is either proud of the work of three successive Labour governments, or who is not an instant adherent of whatever ‘One Nation’ Labour purports to be.
The imagery is powerful, as those who deploy it clearly acknowledge, and the connotations serious. It is used a weapon of instant dismissal, not on the merits of the argument being put forward but on the political relevance, or not, of the person articulating them.
For we know that happens when movements, parties or politicians continue to stagger forward, limp-like, dead behind the eyes. They become “zombies”. Unable to articulate any coherent political thought they mindlessly harp back to better days, presumably when they were at least alive, and stick cult-like to their dogma.
For the left of the party, who have monopolised this attack on the perceived wickedness of the Labour right, this interpretation allows them to, at a stroke, blame them for all the party’s woes. It is the swivel-eyed, walking-dead platoon of Blairite ultras holding Labour back, so the argument goes.
The living dead in the Labour party are, though, not the target often cited. With their clammy dead hands it is not the Blairites who have a zombie grip on the direction on the Labour party. The political lobotomies belong solely to the left of the party who, with the recklessness of those about to die, have realised they could do everything they ever dared for.
When deciding whether to sign on the dotted line, its unlikely that Labour’s newest guru, David Axelrod, had full sight of these legions on the undead left. But as he gets to work, he will soon understand their power.
In their pre-apocalyptic landscape ‘One Nation’ Labour is a well-defined, formidable political concept that has policy depth and breadth of voter appeal to sweep back all the losses suffered under the New Labour banner. The party’s policy guru, Jon Cruddas, the “sage of Dagenham”, may one day surprise us all and actually produce a policy, and the polling that systematically display underwhelming Labour leads may one day change, but those so often accused are categorically not the ones being the unthinking dead.
Offer them socialism and they will come, is the ultimate decree. McCluskey, in his tour de force hatchet job on Johnson, accused the Blairite zombies’ political clock of stopping some time in 2008. Well, if that were true, then theirs stopped quite some time before. They write thinly-argued articles embracing our march to victory, or espouse their traditional call of ignoring “New Labour sirens”.
Labour risks, zombie-like, of marching aimlessly towards the next general election. Miliband will have to take on these zombies for they represent a far greater threat to the prospect of a majority Labour government then any former devotee of a Labour leader who will have left office 8 years ago by the time of the next general election.
The tale of Blairite zombies is but a myth, buried deep into the sub-conscious of the paranoid and romanticised left who are suspicious of any and everyone who does not sing for a new, socialist-controlled, Jerusalem.
The question will be whether Miliband identifies the right foe and, displaying the will to live, renders the right political corpse motionless.
David Talbot is a political consultant