Everyone wants to be Tony Blair, not Neil Kinnock

by Kevin Meagher

Tristram Hunt is off to run a museum rather than fight for the soul of the Labour party. We should not be surprised. He is one of a band of would-be leaders who would rather like to be Prime Minister, but don’t want to put in the work required to get there.

Labour’s shiny leadership hopefuls don’t want to get their shoes wet in the swamp of party reform. They want someone else to deliver them an electable Labour party to lead. So they’ll go and sit on the hillside until that happens.

They will be waiting a long time.

Here’s the hard reality. No Labour MP over the age of 45 is ever going to be Prime Minister.

The party will do less badly than many predict in 2020 (the Labour brand is stronger in its heartlands than the chatterers and scribblers of Westminster presume) but it will still be bad. The earliest Labour recovery is at the election after.

It’s easy for those on the right to daydream that they will rub the Left’s nose in the manure of defeat in 2020, snatch back ‘their’ party and march to victory, but it’s an idle fantasy.

Even if Corbyn makes way for a more centrist leader, no-one is going to be given carte blanche to reform the party the way Tony Blair was. The late Labour MP Tony Banks once said his members were so desperate for victory after the party’s fourth successive general election defeat in 1992 that they were willing to ‘eat shit to see a Labour Government.’

Labour members are nowhere near that desperate. Not yet. Reforming a party is a slow, incremental process. Last time, it took Labour fourteen years from the debacle of 1983 until victory in 1997 – from peak unelectability to eventual victory. Of course, that shears off the extra four years from actually losing power in 1979.

So, 2030, perhaps? Even to meet that far-off timeline, the party would need a new leader to push through the changes necessary to reposition Labour on the centre-ground. It needs someone to act as a bridge between where Labour is now under Jeremy Corbyn and where it needs to be to ever win again, (sans Scotland, in all probability).

A leader who can work with left and right and is prepared to do the heavy-lifting of party renewal, winning all those small internal battles in order to take the steps forward that are vital in modernising a political party.

The problem for the Labour Right, is that everybody wants to be Tony Blair. No-one wants to be Neil Kinnock.

But the task of modernising Labour is even harder this time around because of the necessity of keeping the Left on-board. In the 1990s, Tony Blair calculated that the Left had nowhere else to go and could be safely ignored.

Clearly that’s not an option any longer. Even if a bout of pragmatism break out after suffering multiple election defeats, the party’s grassroots will still remain anchored on the centre-left. A Blairite restoration is now impossible.

In our system of big, agglomerated parties, it will need a persuader of genius to keep everyone together – post-Blairite and post-Corbynite alike. Its an exhausting prospect.

So the question is ‘who?’

Which of Labour’s big names: Dan, Yvette, Chuka, Lisa, (or whoever) is prepared to, in all probability, forego the chance of leading Labour in government in order to take the brickbats and endure the hard slog required to lead Labour’s modernisation and save the party?

Who aspires to be the new Neil Kinnock?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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13 Responses to “Everyone wants to be Tony Blair, not Neil Kinnock”

  1. John P Reid says:

    If the headline had been everybody what to be Harold Wilson, not Hugh Gaitskell, I’d have probably felt more at ease, try to understand guys Blair is damaged goods apart from that very good article, how old is Louisiana Berger or Gloria De Piero, apart from that spot on

  2. Just Cann says:

    By one member one vote labour party will continue elect labour party leader with Corbyn type of Politics.

  3. Tafia says:

    Labour needs to win MORE voters. Unfortunately for the party that means winning votes from people who voted Yes in 2014, Tory or UKIP in 2015, and who voted Leave last year.

  4. Malc says:

    Spot on. We were all force-fed a lot of shit by New Labour prior to 1997. It didn’t taste very nice at the time. Shit never does.

  5. paul barker says:

    One big difference between the 1980s & now is that Labour are now split along two axes instead of “only” one. The new Open/Closed (Brexit) division cuts across the Old Left/Right one, dividing Labour into even more fragments.
    There is no faction or possible Coalition that commands majority support among Labour MPs, Members & Voters. The job of any new “Kinnock” is now impossible rather than just hard & unrewarding.

  6. Rallan says:

    LOL! Blair and Kinnock? Still looking backward?

    My wild prediction: in 2018 there will be another (but much more serious) Labour leadership challenge. Everyone will recognise that it’s a definitive contest for the soul of the Labour Party. Corbyn will stand aside for a more electable hard left candidate.

    My guess would be a battle between Dan Jarvis and Clive Lewis, and I think Lewis will win. I think my prediction is at least as good as anything Atul Hatwal forecasts.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Malc victory tasted nice at the time though,
    Tafia has a good point about getting SNP voters back to labour

    Frank Field and Michael Portillo both said tat it would be better for Scotland to go independent,Michael gove was described last year in a spectator article as the greatest leader Labours never had, portillos first political hero was Harold Wilson, and black Tory lord John Taylor said of Portillo that he was just pretending to be Thatcherite to further his career in the 80’s
    So to take the view that there are some non Blairite ,non Corbyinsta, EU skeptics who appeal to the Socially conservative, yet Social democrat view of politics, what was needed was a 42 year old, Admirer of Frank field and Michael Portillo, who was against Iraq, voted leave ,and didn’t back David miliband for leader in 2010

  8. Steve says:

    This is fantasy island stuff. As if we’re stuck in a time loop and have gone back to ’83.

    Well, New Labourites may not like to admit it but things have changed. We’ve had the Iraq disaster, failure of trickle-down, neoliberal economics and, most importantly of all, we’ve had 2008.

    But those are matters far too difficult for some. Better retreat into the Blairite comfort zone – it’s much easier than facing up to reality.

  9. AM says:

    New Labour were a con act that was only a temporary fix. Now, we need to undo the damage they did to our relationship with the working class. That won’t happen overnight.

  10. Mr Akira Origami says:

    Why does the last bastion of Labour in the UK fail to get even a mention on Uncut?

    Does anybody want to be Carwyn Jones?


  11. John P Reid says:

    Raglan, unless labour loses very singse council seat in those elections, can’t see Corbyn going and john McDonnell will want a go too

    AM, if you think that new labour caused damage to the working class, I take it you feel people who bought their council homes and consider themselves to be middle class, are actually middle class, fact is, they would still fit the demographics of working class, those are the people that Labour in the 80’s list and new labour got back, but yes lebour did lose, the unskilled Borthern working class because labour were more interested in getting the lower middle class, and we’d never had won if we hadn’t, so think if that before we criticise new lebour giving up on the lower working class, as we had to do it too win, unless you dint think winning is important.

    Steve and then we had Ed miliband who spent 5 years denouncing new labour, and… Lost in what could be said worse circumstances than Brown

    Paul Barker what are you in about, it’s not just the PLP, not agreeing with ackrbyn on his, head in the sand attitude to, ignoring politics outside of Islington,and Brexit, there’s both swing voters and labour activists outside Westminster, who, realise that A, labour needs to organise to fight a affective campaign, and B, that labour don’t represent the people we need,to win

  12. Vern says:

    Who wouldn’t? Blair was a winner who achieved things. Kinnock by comparison achieved nowt. Both however, have gone on to line their pockets in a similar “grubby” manner proving the apple never falls far from the tree. Neither care about the countries grafters and are good case studies as to why the Labour party is suffering to connect with people.

  13. Mike Homfray says:

    None of those names mentioned.
    Noone who voted for Smith, no-one who voted to bomb Syria, noone who can’t cope with Brexit.

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