Posts Tagged ‘Tony Blair’

Brexit means austerity and the death of Corbyn’s hope

26/06/2017, 07:05:23 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The Mandibles – Lionel Shriver’s latest – is a gripping and darkly hilarious story of a family and an America, over the years 2029 to 2047, in spectacular decline.

In our imploding chimney of a country, collapsing in on itself, we, too, feel precipitous descent. The appalling suffering and injustice of Grenfell. The banality of Islamic and right-wing evil. The biggest governmental challenge since World War II, with the least convincing prime minister since the last one.

Oddly enough, as everything that could go wrong goes wrong, The Mandibles reveals an optimistic core. This hope doesn’t come from institutions, abstractions, or politics. It is created by the visceral self-sacrifice and resilience of individuals, driven by love for those around them.

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn.

Like the Mandible family, Britain yearns to hope. Unlike them, we haven’t given up on politics as its source.

I was too young for Blair and am too old for Corbyn. Still up for Portillo but too wide-eyed to really absorb its historic significance. Not wide-eyed enough to have any anticipation of Kensington and Chelsea turning red.

Hope is what unites Corbyn with the Blair of 97. Much of the country looks into their eyes and sees a better tomorrow. Others scoff and are certain of disaster. My A-Level Economics teacher won £10 on a pub bet that there would be a recession within six-months of PM Blair.

New Labourites are misremembering if they think that Blair did not suffer doubters, as Corbyn does now. They would be lacking in generosity to not concede that Corbyn, as Blair did then, has, for those who have suspended any disbelief, become a canvass for disparate, even contradictory, hopes.

I’m not the first to draw comparisons between Corbyn and Blair. The left’s instinctive trust in Corbyn allows him, according to Matt Bolton, to successfully triangulate, that most Blairite of things. But Brexit is a triangulation too far.

“While Corbyn’s much derided ‘0% strategy’ on Brexit proved to a be a short-term electoral masterstroke,” Bolton observes, “assuring Red Kippers that he was committed to pulling out of the single market and clamping down on immigration, while allowing Remainers to project their hopes for a softer landing onto him, at some point a decision has to be made.”

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If Labour is to win the next election, we must answer the big questions that Tony Blair posed over a decade ago

14/06/2017, 06:35:27 PM

by Tom Clement

As good as our result was last week, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we did not win. Earning the trust of 41% of the population is a magnificent achievement but it still leaves us sixty seats short of being even the largest party. Our choice now is to either complain about the unfairness of the voting system; or we can equip ourselves to win an election.

And to do this, we must claim the future.

It is the only way we win. In 1945, Atlee realised the need to win the peace following the Second World War and led our most transformative government so far. Wilson won in 1964 after embracing the ‘white heat’ of the technological revolution and liberalise our country as a result. And through facing the Millennium, Blair was able to win in 1997 and deliver the longest period of Labour government to date.

So how do we do it today?

We must face the future and embrace the difficult questions that we have avoided for so long. In fact, if you go back to Tony Blair’s final conference speech as leader, he poses some clear questions that we have still yet to answer.

The question today is … how we reconcile openness to the rich possibilities of globalisation, with security in the face of its threats.”

We live in uncertain times. The recent election result only serves to highlight that. With Brexit, Trump and the chaos in Downing Street, it is impossible to predict what will happen over the next five years.

But that doesn’t mean that we have no control over it. Quite the opposite. The future is very much in our hands but only if we reach out and embrace it.

Our test, put simply, is Brexit. It is no good to just wait for the Tories to make a bad deal and then complain about it afterwards.

We have to lead. We have to be bold about our decisions now and fill the vacuum that Theresa May’s insipid leadership has left.

Corbyn should announce the formation of a cross-Party convention to decide our negotiating strategy for Brexit and invite all parties to it. We should force the debate to be about priorities, not process. We should make clear how a Labour Brexit would be different to a Tory Brexit and we should shame them into sharing their priorities.

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: Britpop in London, Coronation Street in Bassetlaw

02/05/2017, 09:05:54 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Lucy Ashton is the daughter of Joe Ashton, MP for Bassetlaw 1968-2001 and a political journalist.

While the Millbank machine was thundering through key seats in 1997, it was business as usual in Bassetlaw, my father’s constituency in North Nottinghamshire.

My dad had been the Labour MP for 29 years and had lived through the toughest times ever to face both the party and the country, including the devastating Miners’ Strike. He had won successful elections through the bleakest of periods so the media monitoring, battle bus and key message cards somewhat passed us by as we did business as usual.

My dad was a big supporter of Blair and a fan of Alistair Campbell (mainly through their shared love of football) but he knew his constituency better than anyone. Geographically, it’s huge and diverse so he would spend his days hammering posters into farmers’ fields, then door knocking with a loud speaker on disadvantaged council estates. The London Labour party with its Britpop celebrity endorsements seemed a world away.

One of the main towns in Bassetlaw is Worksop which was lucky enough to have a wonderful old building called the Labour Party Headquarters, ideally positioned opposite a pub. It was a great curiously shaped building, full of character and heritage and was used for everything from storing leaflets to holding important ballot meetings.

My dad was in his 60s and I remember him lying down on a 1960s-style orange and brown settee to have a nap mid-afternoon.

But this time my dad knew that finally, he could celebrate a Labour landslide, so while Blair was in his private plane, we were preparing for a street party.

We used chairs to unofficially close the little back street where the HQ building was, effectively shutting off access to the pub but given the landlord was a long-standing party supporter no one seemed to mind.

I wore a bright red polo shirt – nothing fancy to celebrate such a historic occasion – and spent the whole night playing games with the little kids, drinking and laughing.

I remember dancing to ‘Come On Eileen’ with my mum and a group of the Labour party woman, hugging and stamping our feet. This was our time after years of fighting. I still think of that moment when I hear the song.

While Millbank had create a new era of campaigning which would change the way every election was  fought in future, in Bassetlaw it felt like we had returned to the days of Coronation Street in the 1960s, of Harold Wilson, of simple booze-ups and happy times.

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: Fear and loathing in Conservative Central Office

01/05/2017, 10:55:57 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Mark Stockwell was a staffer at Conservative Central Office.

Twenty-odd points behind in the polls. Divided, discredited, and despised. Doomed to defeat, a whole generation of talent set to be swept aside in an electoral tsunami from the south of England to the highlands of Scotland, and all points between.

That was the situation facing the Conservative Party on 1 May 1997. And although the eventual share of the vote was closer than the polls suggested, the impact in terms of seats won and lost was every bit as devastating.

In the early hours of the morning of 2 May, as the scale of Tony Blair’s victory became clear, a small crowd of ‘well-wishers’ gathered outside the then Tory HQ. Some maintain that they were chanting “You’re out and you know you are” (to the tune of ‘Go West’). From inside the Smith Square bunker, I think it was the more traditional football-terrace lyrics I could hear. And while some were outraged at this impertinence, and still shocked at what had unfolded during the course of the night, a good deal more were inclined to shrug and think to themselves, “fair enough”. Eighteen years of Conservative rule had come to a shattering end and those who had hastened its demise were in no mood for an insincere display of magnanimity.

Earlier, preparing to hunker down for a sleepless night of election coverage and (let’s be honest) steady drinking, a few Central Office staffers in the ‘war room’ had printed off a list of marginal seats and pinned it to the wall in order to keep track of the results as we went along. (Even the memory of this quaint, paper-based approach seems to tinge the whole scene with sepia. I don’t think we even had Excel in those days.)

After a handful of early results had filtered through, the extent of the swing to Labour and the patterns of tactical voting had become obvious. A few of us began to exchange anxious glances. I can’t recall exactly who said it first, or at what stage in proceedings, but pretty soon the conclusion was unavoidable: “We’re going to need to print out another sheet.” And pretty soon, another one. I recalled the words of Pitt the Younger on hearing of Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz: “Roll up the map; we will not be needing it these ten years.”

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: Then and now

01/05/2017, 07:55:36 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Jonathan Todd looks at then and now with an eye to the Mayoral votes coming this Thursday

“I don’t know what I was hoping for.”

I don’t know for how many people the words of Nick Cave’s beautiful We Came Along This Road apply to Labour’s 1997 victory.

My family have never been political. I cannot comprehend childhoods snatched under tables in committee rooms. I spent my first 16 years kicking a ball against a wall.

As a sixth-former in Barrow-in-Furness, the hopes that I had for Labour in 1997 did not reside in family inheritance. They did, though, grow out of family circumstance.

While Ken Clarke delivered macroeconomic improvement in advance of May 1997, unemployment was a spectre that ever more encroached on my ball kicking.

In the north of my youth, people were made redundant in middle age and never worked again, youngsters left school to go on the dole. This created a pervasive sense of thwarted hopes.

In the same way that 1945 was about saying “no more” to the economic depravities of the 1930s, my Labour hopes in 1997 grew out of unnecessary economic injustice.

While I was specific about the unemployment that I wanted to leave behind, I was vague about how Labour might fulfil these hopes. I enjoyed A-Level Economics – and was much more Keynes than Friedman – but neo-endogenous growth theory did not much illuminate, at least as I recall my youthful mind, the intensions of Blair and Brown.

1997 is as far removed from today as the second year of Wilson’s premiership was from 1945. By the mid-60s, while Attlee’s achievements, such as the NHS and the welfare state, were immense, they’d long been banked by the public. As much taken for granted as the minimum wage now is.

In 1945, 1964 and 1997, Labour was a breath of fresh air, defined as a vanguard of national renewal, not by what it had done decades previously. Blair will be as irrelevant to the next Labour government as Attlee was to 1964. Or Wilson was to 1997.

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: Euphoria for political anoraks, but many were indifferent

01/05/2017, 05:09:02 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Kevin Meagher was the campaign co-ordinator in Bolton South East

I have a very specific recollection of the morning after Labour’s 1997 election victory.

Back then, I was working as a hod-carrier for my dad during the day and studying for my Master’s at night. (Campaigning for Labour took up every other waking minute).

Like every other political anorak, I’d stayed up for Portillo – and long after.

But I had work the next day.

We arrived at the site and parked up. It was only 8am, but the sun was already beating down and the sky was clear blue. The road were were working on was a haze of fine dust with a gentle breeze blowing towards us.

We took the tools out of the car and set off towards our block.

Brian, a ground worker in his mid-50s, (whose misanthropy was already well-established), was walking towards us, chuntering away to himself.

“So what do you make of the election result then?” my dad asked him cheerily.

Brian screwed up his face and without pausing simply said: “They’re all the fucking same.”

They’re all the fucking same.

The point, I guess, is never to be carried away with the euphoria of the political moment.

To misquote WB Yeats: the best were full of passionate intensity while the worst lacked all conviction.

Yes, May 1st 1997 was a joyous and thrilling experience for Labour supporters. The end of an appalling 18-year losing streak. A moment laden with opportunity.

Millions, however, were not enthused.

After all, John Major still won more votes in 1992 than Tony Blair managed in 1997: 14,093,007 to 13,518,167.

As a psephological factoid, it should throw a pale of cold water over our selective memories. Yes, it was a tremendous, landmark victory, but turnout fell from 77.7 per cent in 1992 to 71.4 per cent in 1997.

In office, competence and moderation were Blair’s guiding principles. Britain is a small ‘c’ conservative country. He instinctively recognised that. He knew his mandate was for ‘Labour men and Tory measures.’ But the hope was that once your bona fides are established you can bend the consensus your way.

Like all governments, positive things were achieved and some opportunities were missed.

In 2001, turnout fell to just 59 per cent. By 2005, Tony Blair won 4.5 million fewer votes than Neil Kinnock managed in 1992.

This accounts for the ‘missing’ five million Labour voters that Ed Miliband used to talk about. They remain lost. Missing in Inaction, so to speak.

The challenge for Labour’s next leader is to find them and rebuild a similar consensus to the one Blair and Brown first managed to assemble in 1997.

Something tells me I should not hold my breath.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: “North West Labour party, leaders of a new generation, can I help you?”

01/05/2017, 12:33:14 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Tristram Brown was a volunteer at the North West regional office.

You could touch the build up to polling day in 1997. Everywhere we went people wanted to talk about labour being in government. Flags, posters, banners everywhere. We were also supremely organised (but probably less so than my imperfect memory will allow me). We had an answer to every question we were going to be asked, we had a leaflet, a pledge card or a manifesto for everyone we met.

To this day, that election taught me that if you want to judge whether the party or our policies are popular you can see the ripples of support in the public. In order to penetrate the quiet reserve of public consciousness then there must be visible signs of it in the towns and villages of the country. There is no such thing as a silent revolution.

I spent the night working, collecting results as they came in and passing them on. There were parties everywhere, but the party staff and volunteers worked through the night, including in NW regional office pulling together results and passing intelligence on. This was before Wikipedia or the internet so it relied on networks of staff calling each other (mobile phones weren’t common then – pagers!). I was one of the first up the next morning opening the office and as an act of indulgence I remember answering the phones with “NW Labour Party, leaders of a new generation, can I help you?”

I went back into university the next week and my professor had filled in the paperwork for an extension on my deadlines on my behalf. Happy days.

Tris Brown was a volunteer in NW regional office between 1995-1997 

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: “Who the hell is Claire Curtis-Tansley?”

01/05/2017, 10:50:22 AM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Atul Hatwal was a press officer at Millbank HQ and gives a personal take on the day.

By May 1st, party HQ at Millbank tower was almost empty. Most staff had been shipped out to key seats to knock doors in the last week.

The press desk was silent. The morning dragged by with a couple of international press  queries on timings but other than that I wiled away the time looking out of the window at the glorious blue sky and ringing people I knew in committee rooms in various key seats, bothering them for updates on whether the vote was coming out.

This wasn’t official business mind, just curiosity and something to do.

These were the days when pagers were modern and the internet was still called the information super-highway. The equivalent of Twitter was sitting, staring at Lotus notes (that’s what we had rather than Outlook) on a desktop screen, waiting for an e-mail to appear.

I was rostered to work the morning through to late afternoon; then some time-off before coming in for the evening shift at eight, on duty for results and at the party through to the morning.

The time-off wasn’t really time-off though – all staff working these sorts of shifts were expected to spend their downtime knocking up in a key seat.

Earlier in the week the whole key seat operation had been refocused with canvassers moved out to an entirely new list of seats with much higher Tory majorities.

At the time the decision was announced I had committed a minor heresy.

I asked one of the key seats team why we were shifting at such a late stage? What did we hope to achieve with 4 days of canvassing in seats that hadn’t been touched in years.

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Labour’s problems didn’t start with Corbyn but New Labour’s arrogance in power

22/04/2017, 07:29:42 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The failure of the New Labour project, measured in its ability to blow the victory of 1997 by 2010 at the latest, has an eerie similarity to the failure of Trump to know that pride goes before a fall. Not the current President of the USA, but Judd Trump, the snooker player. As someone who plays the game but very badly, I am in awe of Trump who was the youngest player ever to make a maximum 147 break an will one day win the world championship. But not this year.

He was knocked out by an unknown 46 year old qualifier last week, Rory McLeod, in the first round on April 19th. He came into the Championships as world ranked Number 2 and joint champion, and made the fatal error of saying the rating did not worry him. He should have been worried. Like many super talented people, he underestimated his opponent and suffers from the pride of arrogance. Like some politicians I can think of. David Cameron thought the Brexiteers were ‘swivel eyed loons’ and lost the 2016 referendum. The 1945 general election result led to some Labour people saying “We are the masters now”. But while Judd Trump was so upset he could not make his post-match TV interview, he should look at the current Labour Party and think he got away lightly.

While the Labour Party recovered after losing in 1951, and Cameron’s party looks like it is doing well, whether the arrogance of New Labour will see a recovery will be in the lap of the gods. And no one should blame Corbyn for the current crisis, which he makes worse but did not create. Blair destroyed his own credibility with the working class core voter even before the Iraq war. While the 2001 seats tally was much the same as the 1997 landslide, in key areas like Stoke the working class voter had already started to slip away. By 2005 Blair could only muster 37% of the vote, enough to win, but also to give Michael Howard’s Tories the scent of a failing project. It is a matter of history that Brown and Miliband could get nowhere near even the 2005 election result.

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Time to get over Brexit and move on to the next debates

08/04/2017, 04:17:02 PM

by Samuel Dale

Stop it. Just stop it.

I voted to remain in the EU. I wanted us to stay in as much as anyone and still believe it is a major mistake that the UK will come to regret.

But I was on the losing side. Remain lost in a clean, fair fight where robust and dodgy arguments and statistics were deployed on both sides.

The vote was close but clear. The Leave campaign won by more than half a million votes and that means Brexit must happen.

These seem like the most basic, simplistic points imaginable but some in Labour and the wider Left are still refusing to accept the result.

Tony Blair has suggested a second referendum on the final deal. Alastair Campbell has repeatedly called for Brexit to be stopped. Labour-supporting lawyer Joylon Maugham says the legal process for reversing Article 50 is sound.

And then there is Professor AC Grayling, who appears to have lost his mind. Even Professor Richard Dawkins, the high priest of rationality, says Brits have not spoken on Brexit (when they quite clearly have).

These are all people I respect but here is the truth: You can deploy whatever clever, legalistic shenanigans you like but there is zero chance that Britain will remain in the EU. Absolutely, stone cold zero.

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