The Labour right does not belong to Tony Blair

by Jonathan Todd

There are worthwhile endeavours within the Labour family that are devoutly non-factional. The point of Pragmatic Radicalism, for example, is to get away from left and right labels and to debate the way ahead in this unencumbered and comradely form.

Unsurprisingly, however, Prag Rad has not succeeded in moving our party beyond having groupings within itself. As much as the vibrancy and relevance of Labour depends on not over emphasising internal differences, which are never as substantial as the things that unite us, and interweaving ourselves with the communities that we serve, such groupings fall into that awkward category of thing that we might prefer not to exist but in all likelihood are always going to and which, therefore, we might as well be grown-up about.

To the best of my knowledge, if this is not too ridiculous a segue from talk of being grown-up, the only person who has ever blocked me on Twitter is a notoriously prolific tweeter, squarely on the party’s left. I’ve never exchanged views on Twitter with this person. I’ve never had a face-to-face conversation with them. I’ve never had any direct engagement with them of any sort. But somehow, I’ve upset them. Being Deputy Editor of Uncut is probably “crime” enough.

It’s not personal. It’s political. I know that. Which is why I don’t take it personally (though, it is petty and is not something, I hope, I’d find myself doing). This activist has one view of what Labour should be and I have another. The party is a broad church. In this context, there will always be different views.

In terms of my views, I have written plenty for Uncut that might be broadly associated with a Blairite position: the importance of fiscal credibility; bring pro-EU and reform in the EU; admiration for Jim Murphy; the desirability of big tents; applauding bridges built with business and wealth creation; embracing the contributory principle; and so on.

None of this should be taken to imply slavish devotion to Tony Blair. Of course, Stephen Bush – the incoming Staggers editor – is right that to deny Blair’s successes is like denying the moon landings: they obviously happened.  He’s equally correct, however, that even for Blairites defending Blair is tiresome. And I’m not sure that those who are still called Blairites – and I wish there were a more contemporary moniker like Umunnaites (google it and nothing comes up) or vintage like neo-Gaitskellites (google it and you’ll find a valiant effort) – best advance their cause by defending everything Blair did in office. And certainly not everything Blair has done since.

If the Labour right gets boxed into a corner where Blair defines us, the left win. Which is why the left want to put the right into that box. The zeal with which Blairite is tossed around as criticism denotes this, so I’d rather be an Umunnaite or some such.

There may be, as Andrew Rawnsley argues, a Blair shaped vacuum in British politics. But Tony Blair isn’t going to fill it. And I’m sceptical that someone routinely derided as a Blairite will either. But Chuka Umunna just might. Or better still, Ed Miliband could.

The latest round of agonising over Blair was kicked off by him telling the Economist that the 2015 general election could become one “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”, meaning Tory victory. Blair’s Labour fought a general election 10 years ago warning about the dangers of Tory cuts. Miliband’s Labour fights one this year committed to further cuts to balance current spending in the next parliament. If Labour is traditionally about spending, it is Blair who fought the traditional general election campaign, not Miliband.

What we talk about – as I’ve previously written for Uncut – when we talk about Blair isn’t Blair, it’s how we see the past and the future of the party. An accurate history of this past, however, as Siôn Simon nearly a decade ago observed in Prospect, would record that, “in the mid-1980s, when Kinnock was still unilateral and anti-European and Blair and Brown were soft-left Tribunites because that was the way to get on, people like George Robertson (and Giles Radice, John Spellar et al) were actually saying what they believed, things which are now commonplaces—criminals: bang ‘em up; defence: security through strength; tax: little as necessary, and so on”.

Whether these things remain commonplaces is another debate but the Labour right didn’t begin with Blair and fatally limits itself by conducting itself as if it did. 1997 is now as distant from today as 1979 was from 1997. There are those who have gleefully buried Blair, such as the activist that blocked me. The Labour right doesn’t need to share this glee and can carry on recognising Blair’s as-obvious-as-the-moon-landing achievements.

The right does, though, need to move on. The modernisers need to modernise, recognising Blair as part of a proud past but defining an even brighter future on different terms.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut     

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15 Responses to “The Labour right does not belong to Tony Blair”

  1. swatantra says:

    The point being made is that Blair got many things wrong as some things right, and maybe its time to consign him to the dustbin of history, along with Attlee and Wilson and Callaghan and Brown. There should be a new chap (or chapess) on the block coming up pretty soon now to takeover where the others left off, although I have doubts whether it will be EdM. So, blairism was just one more step in that journey Labour is on.

  2. John P Reid says:

    I always wondered with Blair before he’d even joined the party in 81 whether he was saying things too fit in, having Tiny a benn for deputy parties at his house,
    How he managed to Appeal to Murdoch when he had done thins I’d anyone’s guess, and his amnesties for IRA suspects on the run, for killing anyone other than members of the UDA isn’t somwthing the right of the Labour Party would ever support ,

    Why Blair backed Scargill during the miners strike, yet when he was leader he clearly didn’t even like the Labour Party ,is unbelievable,

    The comparisons with the moon landings raise 2 points, experts were saying in 1960 build a re usable space plane,and a permanent space station we’ll get too the moon later ,but that was we could get to Mars within 50 years, we didn’t, we rushed forgot about the future to get tothe moon quickly and the space program stalled afterwards, comparison, is we won the elections, but we didn’t finish reforming the party, and gimmicks like resounding Labour or one nation mean nothing, if the party machine has given up on Essex etc.

    And if some of the moon landing photo’d were doctored as they were to make them look better, winning by default, in May could be the same as winning in 1974, a mistake that could put us out of power for years.

  3. Robert says:

    Like many moderates, I voted for Blair in 1994 and it was only in 2003 that I realised that we had made an awful mistake. So Jonathan is right that the Labour right does need to distance itself from Blair. It also needs to realise that many critics of Blair are not on the hard left of the Labour Party.

  4. Landless Peasant says:

    Fuck Blair and fuck the Right wing. Labour is supposed to be Left wing.

  5. John P Reid says:

    Landless ,labour is a democratic socialist party, left,does not mean liberal, Blunkett was leader of Sheffield when it was called the people’s republic, due to its far left nature,as Tony Benn said how easy it was some Stalinists fund the transformation to Blairite,and Blunkett like Callaghan wee socially conservative ,

    Define left wing, wanting in council estates crime under control, by having law and order, or is that only right wing in capitalist parties ,being Anti the EU, having our own independent nucleur defence starategy , was q single Union boss, forcing people to joine Union, or face the sack, and not being able to get unemployment benefit,if they refused and the union boss taking people out on strike, no matter what,if the boss decided, is that left wing, I don’t think so.

    Tony Benn in his mansion introducing policies while in power that made the working class worse off,was that left wing
    The Green Party breaking the bin men’s strike wasn’t that left wing

  6. uglyfatbloke says:

    Admire Murphy? Seriously?

  7. Ummunaite says:

    @Robert – Yeah, Rob, because winning three elections (the longest period of non-Tory govt ever), the biggest redistribution of wealth since Atlee, lifting millions out of poverty, introducing gay rights, investing and reforming public services, reforming the House of Lords, devolution, Sure Start etc. were such such ‘awful mistakes’.

    The Labour right doesn’t belong to Blair, that’s absolutely right. But I think there is a particular Blairite tradition within the Labour right for eg. Luke Akehurst is Old Labour right but would disagree with Blairite positions on the deficit, public service reform and tax. People who subscribe to that tradition should call themselves ‘Blairite’. That doesn’t mean you agree with Blair on every dot and comma, but it’s a political approach. What Labour should do is merge the Blairite tradition with the pre-Fabian Labour tradition of GDH Cole, RH Tawney, the Co-op movement, friendly societies etc. before socialism was stolen by the big state, tax-and-spend, middle-class rationalists.

  8. Brian Capaloff says:

    Funnily enough, I’m regularly upset by Labour Uncut, but follow it on Twitter to know what the Labour right of centre is writing about (and normally to get annoyed by it!) and the only ‘Labour’ supporter to have blocked me was Rob Marchant – he of the obsession about Unite and Falkirk!

  9. 07052015 says:

    Another helpful comment from tony blair today,following last nights from prescott and charles clarke dissing the mansion tax.

    How is it brown or milburn or beckett are able to keep their thoughts to themselves but other yesterdays men just have to sound off.

  10. swatantra says:

    Akehurst has a piece on LL about Prezza the Buffoon in the same mould as BoZo Johnson the Clown. Oddly enough, I agree that scrapping Trident would release monies for more useful projects, but I couldn’t say that on LL because I’m banned, so I’ve said it here.

  11. Landless Peasant says:

    The Rightwing should get the fuck out of Labour and join the Tories where they belong. Blue Labour = Class Traitor. Keep the Red flag flying!

  12. Tafia says:

    07052015 – Chuka Umanna was unmasked last week as the ‘senior Labour figure’ that had been briefing against the Mansion Tax to The Sun

  13. John Reid says:

    07052015 charles Clarke has been saying for weeks about terms simon tax, and just increasing hugh bands of Council tax, Prescott today said scrap trident renewal, sounds good to me, and Blair has half heartedly apologised for not telling anyone that he’d given pardons to IRA murderers (on the run ) of soldiers and cops, who sacrificed their lives to makes us safe,I think he should face treason for that one, once he’s been taken for war crimes to The Hague.

  14. John PReid says:

    Brian Capaloff, Falkirk, you mean Tom Watson and co, not car isn’t hers invest happened where,fake members were created to buy votes for a candidate, and the union/ sponsor member idea isn’t still being used now to create fake members

  15. JohnP reid says:

    Although Bair is right about a lot of things,he’s spoke on since retiring, can the understand, that no one cares what he has to say, until a future labour PM asks for his advice the way Blair asked Maggie for advice, or Major asked callaghan, he should just stick to writing, if he wants to put his view across

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