Posts Tagged ‘purple book’

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…)

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