Posts Tagged ‘Blairites’

The problem with the Labour Right

13/02/2017, 10:25:09 PM

In a pair of short essays on the state of the party, Kevin Meagher casts a critical eye over the state of both the Labour Right and the Labour Left. First the Right.

Let me start with a counterfactual. The basic problem with the Labour Right is that there isn’t really a ‘Labour Right,’ per se.

What I mean is there are several tribes on the right of the party – and the bad news is they have less and less in common. For a long time, they overlapped, with the glue of winning elections and holding office binding them together.

There are big differences between those on what we usually refer to as the moderate side of the party, and the radicals on the left. But we need to appreciate there are also differences within these agglomerated wings.

So those on Labour Right may broadly agree on a sensible, moderate approach to politics, but the various strands of opinion within it still have different aspirations and priorities.

First, we have the neo-Blairites clustered around their ginger group, Progress. They pine for a return to the certainties of New Labour. Tony ‘n’ triangulation, so to speak. They are happy with winning for the sake of winning.

That perhaps sounds dismissive. It isn’t meant to be. Clearly, any successful political project requires electoral victory and the progressives, or neo-Blairites, have things to say that are worth hearing.

But there’s a self-satisfaction about their view of the New Labour era which is quite unjustified. Of course, many positive changes were made during the Blair-Brown years of 1997-2010, notably managing a gently revving economy for a decent period and investing a huge amount in frontline public services.

But for too many people, New Labour simply did not change the weather.

Steel works, coal mines and factories did not reopen. Perhaps none of that was realistic, but it was, however, emblematic of a bigger problem: The types of decently-paid industrial jobs that sustained the British working class simply never returned and New Labour had no response to that.

It is a failing that is now killing British social democracy. All the other welcome policy interventions come to naught if working people cannot earn enough to buy a home, bring up their kids and enjoy life.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour desperately needs a soft left revival

23/09/2015, 10:05:24 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The Labour leadership campaign was a traditional selection process, despite extraordinary features.

While the Corbyn surge and the tripling of numbers entitled to vote flowed from changes made in the procedure, the thinking behind the leadership selection has lapsed behind the constitutional changes made and being made by the coalition government and its Tory successor, most importantly the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

This meant that the new leader has to spend the best part of five years in opposition. By the time the conference season is over, by October 7th, the leaders of all the opposition parties will be facing four years and seven months in opposition. Pledges to do this and that in government are marginal at best. As Fiona Millar has said, the duty of an opposition is to oppose.

The Labour leadership election was thus de facto not about electing a possible future prime minister. It was about leadership in opposition. This reality vanished from the selection process, which produced a series of policy initiatives for a manifesto which is in the remote future.

If there is no successful opposition, then the policies to renationalise rail, bring schools back under local authority control, or whatever are irrelevant. Labour remains, as it has been since it was set up in 1900, a vehicle for representing Labour at Westminster, but there is no strategy for doing this in a way which derails the government and build support in the country.

A key lesson set out by Professor David Runciman in the London Review of Books immediately after the election (10th-21st May 2015) has been missed. Runciman argued “For Labour it is finally time to abandon the idea that its primary purpose is to secure majorities in the House of Commons and that it should do nothing to put that prize at risk. It needs to become more like a typical European social democratic party, which recognises that nothing can be achieved without forging alliances with others.”

Runciman accepts that this will be difficult, but is himself behind the curve of European social democracy and other centre currents which are clearly in trouble.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

As usual, the Blairites bring a knife to a gunfight

20/05/2015, 05:44:50 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s not fair. That seems to be the message from Blairite veterans at how the nascent Labour leadership contest is shaping up. A seemingly co-ordinated attempt to appeal for offside is underway, with complaints about the leading candidates’ campaigning efforts and the role of the trade unions in the process.

Former health secretary, Alan Milburn, was at it on Newsnight the other day, saying that for “one or two candidates being assumed to be the font of all wisdom in this race is just not right.” He wants an open field, which is code for anyone but Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.

Lady Sally Morgan, Tony Blair’s former political secretary, also weighed in, claiming it’s both “arrogant and plain wrong” for there to be only two candidates in the frame.

Barry Sheerman, the Huddersfield sage, has come over all Inspector Renault and is shocked – shocked – that “Unite’s merry men” have the temerity, as an affiliated organisation for the past 100 years, to have their say in the process.

Meanwhile John Hutton, former DWP secretary, is equally sniffy about union involvement, pointing out that only a  ”tiny proportion of the population are in trade unions.” (Not, though, in the Barrow shipyard he used to represent in Parliament, presumably?)

Moaning that Labour MPs – who are free to back whomsoever they wish –  are currently breaking cover in greater numbers for either Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham is like complaining that rain is wet. Indeed, for a wing of the party committed to consumer choice, it’s a strange gripe to have.

The Blairites – if, indeed, such a description still has any coherence – should perhaps have been better prepared for the possibility that Labour might have ended-up having a leadership contest in the latter half of 2015.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Uncut Review: New Labour’s Old Roots, edited by Patrick Diamond

10/02/2015, 08:36:13 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“This is the culmination of a long period in which the voice of moderate opinion in the Labour Party has been drowned by the clamour of an active and articulate minority”. Reading Atul Hatwal recently on Uncut on the monstering of Blairites and humouring of leftists, this feels a commentary on our times. But it comes from the Campaign for Democratic Socialism’s (CDS) 1962 manifesto.

As Patrick Diamond notes in the newly updated version of New Labour’s Old Roots, which he edits, CDS was “formed in response to the need for a more organised centre-right in the party at parliamentary and constituency level”. This paints CDS as a proto Progress. But I was intrigued to discover from Diamond’s research that CDS was backed by an elderly R. H. Tawney, irreproachable Labour royalty.

If Tawney, who did as much as anyone to have Labour dance to the equality beat, supported CDS then it cannot have been akin to the insubstantial, narrow caste that Progress is sometimes characterised as. Involved with this is the implication, which Diamond challenges, that New Labour has only shallow roots in the party.

“The key argument of the collection,” he writes, “is that New Labour is less of an historical aberration than its critics alleged; rather it is possible to trace a ‘common heritage’ between New Labour and earlier modernising traditions in the party … There was a shared commitment to ‘conscience and reform’, underpinned by the ideal of national renewal and the creation of a ‘New Britain’ which animated Labour’s victories in 1929, 1945, 1964 and 1997; as such, New Labour should be seen as, ‘part of a revisionist thread of British social democratic politics’ (Driver and Martell, 2006: 23).”

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Axelrod won’t make a difference as long as Zombie Labour marches on

18/04/2014, 01:33:10 PM

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.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Why does Paul Kenny hate wine bars so much?

04/03/2014, 06:33:01 PM

by Stephen Bush

At the beginning of the twentieth century I would have been a mongrel, in the middle I would have been half-caste. Now I’m mixed-race; and it is not a coincidence that there has never been a better time to be mixed-race in Britain than today. Language, George Orwell once wrote, “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish”. Foolish language, though, makes it all the easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Perhaps that’s why, at Labour’s special conference, I found myself shaking with anger. Political discourse is full of foolish words designed to excuse the lack of an argument; the word “neoliberal”, say, or worse still, “metropolitan”. Eighty percent of the British population lives in an urban area, so, with the exception of badger culling, you can throw the word “metropolitan” at pretty much any argument you don’t like. “Only ethnic minorities and economists think Labour got it right on immigration,” is an embarrassing sentence for political weathervanes, but the word “metropolitan” hides all number of sins.

What we say matters: the phrase “one man, one vote” reflects that the Labour Party is still a boy’s club; the phrase “one member, one vote” suggests that it doesn’t always have to be. The words that we use, and the way we use them: they shape the kind of party we are, and the world we’re trying to create.

So what kind of party is Paul Kenny, the General Secretary of the GMB, shaping when he warns Labour delegates against engaging in “wine bar gossip”?

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The power of Labour’s left means Ed Miliband’s speech on public service reform has already been neutered

10/02/2014, 04:43:34 PM

by Atul Hatwal

This evening Ed Miliband will make speech mentioning Labour’s great unmentionable, a policy area that has been mothballed since Tony Blair’s departure from Number 10: public service reform.

The new left inquisition which dominates much of today’s Labour party views Blairism as the most egregious of all the possible heresies. To openly suggest our public services are in need of reform is dangerously Blairite.

It virtually invites the type of twitter auto-da-fé experienced by those hardy Labour souls who have had the temerity to call for a tougher line on welfare or public spending.

The only criticism of public services permissible in the current orthodoxy is funding: everything would be better if there was more money and the Tory cuts were reversed. All else is doctrinally suspect.

As a result there is some excitement in anticipation of what Labour’s leader will say.

It is also why we know that Ed Miliband’s foray into new territory will only advance Labour’s thinking in the most nugatory manner.

Public service reform has always had two inextricably linked aspects: shifting power from providers to service users and improving efficiency. One leads to another: as power is shifted, and resources allocated to better reflect demand, so cost is driven down and quality, up.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

How does Labour secure a majority in 2015? The centrists must keep the faith

03/02/2014, 03:58:00 PM

In the run up to tonight’s Progress event , we have been publishing a series of pieces on what is required for Labour to secure a majority in 2015. Here, David Talbot sees the political pendulum swinging back to the centre of the Labour party.

Something strange happened in New York in November 1783. It was a fundamental change of order; the collapse of an established Empire. Mounted on a grey horse, George Washington marched down Manhattan at the head of his victorious army. At the same time, British redcoats headed frantically in the opposite direction. When they reached the southernmost tip of the island, they clambered into longboats and rowed out to the remaining Royal Navy ships waiting in the harbour.

For a while it looked as if this might be a blow from which the Empire would never recover. A similar, though mercifully less bloody, scenario befell Manchester in 2010. Mounting the aptly red-soaked stage, Ed Miliband had emerged victorious as the new leader of the Labour party. Looking across the massed banks of his newly-acquired army he pointedly declared the ushering in of a “new generation”. At a stroke the old order fell. The equivalent of the British redcoats, let’s call them Blairites, beat a hasty retreat.

Much like the British army, who didn’t actually formally leave the United States until 1815, a small redoubt of those clinging to the old order within the Labour party have remained resolute. Flying the flag for a forgotten creed this militia are tough on the deficit, restrained on public spending, open to union and party reform, and unremittingly wedded to a centrist, fiscally credible, Labour party. Much like the thousands of loyalists who were left as the last Royal Navy ship left the New York shore, they have been ostracised from and punished by the triumphant forces.

But with the polls forever narrowing and the general election emerging through the midst the Labour party can go one of two ways. It can have its marches and rail against the cuts; it can take fifty per cent of your income; it can promise to cut your energy bill, build your home, and keep your press pure. But without economic credibility it is nothing.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Au revoir David Miliband

27/03/2013, 07:11:02 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There’s an air not just of finality to David Miliband’s announcement that he is quitting British politics but also of inevitability.

Ever since he lost the Labour leadership to his brother in 2010 he has been searching for a meaningful role. For an intelligent, experienced and talented man in the prime of his political career, the taste of defeat was bitter; all the more so when his forward propulsion was stopped dead in its tracks by his own brother.

Such is politics. His campaign to succeed Gordon Brown wasn’t helped by his repeated, misjudged attempts to undermine him from the cabinet table. He waved the dagger but couldn’t thrust it.

In recent times Miliband has taken to saying his role was “on the frontline, not on the frontbench”. By taking up a position (yet undefined) with the New York-based NGO the International Rescue Committee, he will be leading efforts to provide emergency humanitarian relief and human rights advocacy around the world. It is to his credit that his lucrative speechifying and corporate sinecures were clearly not enough to hold his interest.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Purple bookers try to revive past New Labour glories

19/04/2011, 11:00:48 AM

Leading “Blairites” plan to publish a modernisers’ manifesto, to “reshape politics on the centre left” . It will be called The Purple Book.

by Sunder Katwala

Looking back at the successes and shortcomings of the New Labour years, it could be argued that, if there was a missed opportunity which set the limits to the party’s ambitions for progress, it came with the 2001 general election campaign.

It was an election which Labour was never going to lose. William Hague’s unpopular populism was never taken seriously across the country. Yet New Labour high command could never quite believe that the party was going to win, and was concerned to close down issues which it feared were resonating.

So the posters were purple – a lot done, a lot to do – in a bid to seek a largely mandateless re-coronation of the then very popular Tony Blair.

The result was a landslide – a slow motion replay of 1997, with almost no seats at all changing hands, but on a much lower turnout in a way that did little to shift the centre of political gravity. In retrospect, Labour’s 1997-2001 term stands up well, with a ream of manifesto commitments taken into office delivered in a way that endures, from the minimum wage to devolution.

What always remained elusive was “renewal” in office, though politicians and think-tankers talked of little else. The 2001 campaign may have a good claim to be the most cautious run by any winning party in the post-war period. (The major themes of the second term had been kicked into the long grass. It was a big deal for Gordon Brown to put up national insurance for the NHS, but it was safely “under review” during the campaign. Tony Blair’s big second term idea was to win the European argument, but he planned to begin it at the TUC conference on September 11th 2001, in a speech never given, rather than to take Hague’s “foreign land” campaign head on at the hustings).

Given that 9/11 came to dominate all else within a few months, perhaps events meant that it didn’t matter. But 2001 was probably the moment at which Labour needed to give its argument and vision more positive content.

Instead, Labour emulated Bill Clinton a few years earlier. It was re-elected, but did not seek to realign the political debate explicitly. It did shift policy arguments, but was less confident than Margaret Thatcher in believing that politicians could reshape the contours of public and political debate. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon