Posts Tagged ‘Tony Blair’

Starmer placed a bet on Labour wanting to win again. It is time to double down on it

01/02/2021, 11:20:03 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Tom McTague in The Atlantic paints a scenario that should worry Keir Starmer. While Britain’s Covid-19 death toll has risen above 100,000, it may be that a successful vaccine drive leaves a more lasting memory.

After this piece was published, the UK’s vaccine spat with the EU escalated. Poor handling by Brussels leaves the impression that the EU do not like the UK’s vaccine lead, making it easier to spin the UK’s rollout as a Brexit win.

Suddenly, Kate Bingham might seem as likely as anyone else to be the next prime minister. In the meantime, the incumbent has reason to be optimistic about the next 12 months.

While Brexit’s teething problems are painful for those directly impacted, the strong consensus among economic forecasters is that output lost to Brexit in 2021 will be more than offset by gains from lockdown ending and pent up demand being unlocked.

These forecasters have an average UK GDP 2021 projection of 4.4%. Not enough to recover all growth lost in 2020 but our fastest annual rate of growth for over 30 years. Sufficient to make many people feel better about themselves and possibly their government. The resumption of activities now prevented by social distancing – visiting family, drinking with friends, hugging strangers – will also trigger a pervasive positivity in wider senses than the narrowly economic.

Labour should not be complacent about the extent to which the prime minister might make more sense in this context. But – as Dan Pfeiffer often says on Pod Save America – we should worry about everything in politics but panic about none of it.

Now is the time for Starmer to reenergise his leadership’s founding purpose. This is to show that our party has changed from that decisively rejected in 2019 and deserves a mandate to lead our country in a new direction.

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Could Blair have won in 2010?

08/01/2021, 10:40:48 PM

by Kevin Meagher

‘The biggest mistake Tony Blair made as prime minister,’ Andrew Adonis tweeted earlier this week, ‘was to stand down in 2007.

Instead, ‘[h]e should have continued and won the 2010 election, then Britain would be fundamentally better today.’

From the pit of despondency, on the wrong end of a four-nil run of election defeats, we can perhaps excuse his Lordship’s nostalgia. But is there anything in it?

There are three big assertions to unpack here.

The first, is that Blair ‘should have’ or, perhaps, could have stayed on as leader in 2007. Adonis suggests it would have been plain sailing, only it was not.

Blair was not in good shape, politically, at that stage – particularly with the various allegations about cash-for-honours swirling around him – and no shortage of his own MPs trying to manoeuvre him out. There was a sense, particularly after Iraq, that his time had passed.

Granted, Blair won a thumping victory in 2005, two years after the invasion, but it was later, when the full futility of the war became fully apparent, that the damage to his reputation really started to show.

The second question is whether he would have won the 2010 general election. You can cogitate on all kinds of hypotheticals, but it feels that, thirteen years into the job, Tony Blair’s appeal would have seriously eroded by then.

He might still have fared better than Gordon Brown did, but it would have been a case of diminishing returns. Between 1997 and 2005, the party lost 3.9 million voters.

But let us assume he did win in 2010.

For a modernised Conservative party under David Cameron to be stopped dead in its tracks by Labour would have precipitated a major schism in the Tories, who were already under growing threat from UKIP.

Might a fourth term Blair legacy have been the realignment of the Right?

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What story has Starmer come to tell Britain?

21/09/2020, 08:15:07 AM

by Jonathan Todd

At a recent meeting of the PLP, Kevin Brennan congratulated Keir Starmer on, “getting us from the carousel at Katmandu airport to base camp at Everest, in good shape for the long climb ahead.”

While Labour party conference should digitally pat itself on the back for six months of progress under Starmer, the challenges ahead remain daunting.

Harold Wilson won four general elections. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair both won three. Absorbing what these different characters had in common might help Starmer.

“At their peak,” writes Steve Richards in his wonderful study of modern prime ministers, “they were all political teachers. They sought to make sense of what they were doing or what was happening around them. This was especially the case with Thatcher and Blair. Thatcher was an instinctive teacher, making complex ideas and contentious policies become reassuringly accessible.”

Thatcher came along at about the same time as Reagan, as Blair overlapped with Clinton, and Johnson with Trump. As if there is some Atlantic ideological synchronicity.

“In the competition with the USSR,” which Reagan won with the support of Thatcher, “it was above all the visible superiority of the western model that eventually destroyed Soviet communism from within,” writes Anatol Lieven in October’s Prospect magazine. “Today, the superiority of the western model to the Chinese model is not nearly so evident to most of the world’s population; and it is on successful western domestic reform that victory in the competition with China will depend.”

The global sense that quality of life was greatest in the west, which the Reagan and Thatcher era exuded, morphed into a hubris that left weaknesses within the west unaddressed during the Clinton and Blair epoch, so much so that the focus of the magazine in which Lieven writes is whether democracy can survive the Trump and Johnson years.

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If Starmer wants to end Labour’s infighting, then ban Momentum and Progress

16/06/2020, 10:37:02 PM

by Kevin Meagher

There is something fratricidal about the Labour party. Its innate. Division comes naturally, with tribes of left and right, eyeing each other suspiciously. If they did not have to work together in a first-past-the-post system, they wouldn’t. A loveless arrangement and, alas, as old as the party itself; explaining Labour’s uneven electoral record, governing for just 34 out of the last 100 years.

Bevanites. Gaitskellites. Bennites. Tribunites. Blairites. Corbynistas. The list goes on. And even when one faction or other is in control, there is still an irresistible urge to do down the other side. Indeed, there is often a gleeful intensity to this one-upmanship. ‘It’s not enough that I succeed,’ as Gore Vidal put it, ‘others must fail.’

Thankfully, one of Keir Starmer’s key promises in the leadership contest was to end the feuding. ‘Too often,’ he argued. ‘we find ourselves focusing on our differences rather than the values and principles that brought us together, and that comes at a cost. Our party is divided, and unity requires reconciliation.’

So, in a bid to transcend what are often petty, internecine squabbles, he has woven together a frontbench that unites various strands of opinion in the party and elevated basic competence above sectional loyalty. It is a good start, but he needs to go further to show that factionalism will no longer be tolerated.

The best way he can do that? Banish Momentum – and Progress, too.

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When David Evans was North West party director, trade unions were at the heart of his transformation of the region

25/05/2020, 10:16:56 AM

by John Mann

I was appointed by the unions in 1995 to co-ordinate the union links with the Labour Party and act as national union organiser for the 1997 General Election. Soon after starting David Evans was appointed regional director for the Labour Party in the North West.

Union organisation was coordinated regionally and union traditions and strength varied significantly across the countries.

By early agreement with Tony Blair and his General Secretary Tom Sawyer, the unions agreed to prioritise delivering Labour victories in Labours target 90 seats. In some strong union areas like the North West there were only four seats to target. In the North West there were more than a dozen, located in the smaller Lancashire town battlegrounds.

David Evans was at the heart of union involvement, but he had particular structural difficulties, more so than other regions.

The union heartlands were very strong, in Liverpool, Manchester, but also strong industrial towns around Ellesmere port, Widnes and St Helens, making the power bases of the unions the safe Labour  seats.

The North West tradition was locality, with key union figures providing people and money for those stronghold areas and with sitting MPs usually having very strong connections. Many were former union workplace convenors and part of the union powerbase themselves.

Evans had to negotiate through this, telling lifelong union activists and MPs that they would not get the level of support they had always relied on as it was being funnelled into the target seats. It was a battle for hearts and minds and skilled negotiations. Evans mastered both.

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Finally, Corbyn is gone. But let’s not trade the sainted Jezza for the cult of Keir

08/04/2020, 09:51:37 PM

by Tim Carter

The results are in and the predictable groaning and cheering has started, people being stood down from the shadow cabinet and others promoted.

A new leader and a new approach. One of Starmer’s first acts was to send a letter to the Board of Deputies expressing his sorrow and shame on behalf of the party, a much needed action but also something that could’ve and should’ve been done years ago.

But what happens next is crucial and much is down to the membership.

Much has be written about the ‘cultism’ of the Corbyn era, whether the use of the word ‘cult’ is fair matters not, it became about one man, the talk of a movement was mainly baloney and the reactions from some prominent ‘Corbynistas’ have proven that point in bundles.

But sadly the reactions of some on the ‘anti Corbyn’ side have been difficult to witness, politics isn’t the x-factor and we should remember that in the coming days.

Sure we all have politicians we admire and want to have a ‘big role’ but we elect leaders to lead and it is the leader who has to be trusted to pick the right team.

So, I hear you ask, what is your fear?

My fear is of ‘cultism’ if we replace one cult with another we are doomed.

New Labour wasn’t about the adoration of Tony Blair, it was much more than that and looking back at that first shadow cabinet and the eventual first cabinet, it can clearly be seen – a team working hard, all with roles and all on top of their brief.

Over the years things have changed and now people, most of whom probably aren’t old enough to remember, or weren’t Labour voters at the time, have created something that didn’t exist “the cult of Blair.”

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A warning from 2008: Do not assume Corona leads to a new progressive moment

08/04/2020, 10:03:58 AM

by Jake Richards

Keir Starmer has been elected leader of the Labour Party amidst crisis. His priority, rightly, is to show that the country now has a credible and coherent Leader of the Opposition who is willing to work with the Government during the outbreak of Covid-19. However, Starmer and the newly appointed Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, will already be beginning to assess how the crisis will affect the broader political environment.

It is tempting to assume the zeitgeist of the corona outbreak will be progressive. A Conservative government has embraced the most interventionist state economic programme since the war, essentially nationalising a closed-down economy, whilst rough sleeping has been wiped out and hospitals created seemingly overnight. Images and videos of the public applauding our NHS workers have gone viral. A new appreciation for ‘key workers’ in the ‘real economy’ — rubbish collectors, those in the food supply chain, delivery drivers — has emerged. The sense of community spirit combined with the anger at examples of scurrilous businesses taking advantage of taxpayers or employees is more evidence that this is a ‘moment of the left’.

Already, articles by left-wing thinkers are heralding ‘capitalism’s gravest challenge’, the transformation of the private sector and a new popular outcry for ‘big government’.

There was a similar sense after the 2008 financial crash and government intervention around the world ended an ideological reverence to self-correcting markets. In the 12 years since, the Conservatives have won four General Elections, the UK has left the European Union, and in America, India, Brazil and Russia (and elsewhere) we have witnessed the rise of a nationalist populism many thought was confined to the 20th Century. Indeed, although the immediate response to Covid-19 has been statist in a progressive sense, it is easy to envisage a reactionary, isolationist response developing in relation to our borders and trade soon developing.

Whilst a new active state during the crisis offers Labour an array of policy options, the new leader should proceed with caution. Labour has just suffered a devastating defeat on a platform arguing for a massively expanded Government — with nationalisation of key industries, free broadband for all and the development of a universal basic income. Focus groups and polling undertaken after the election revealed voters simply did not believe many of Labour’s policies (however popular on paper) were realistic or welcome as a package. The unpopularity of a universal basic income was striking — suggesting a deep reverence to personal responsibility and work, and a suspicion of ‘free handouts’.

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Labour needs to rebuild trust with voters, which means we can’t promise everything to everyone

18/12/2019, 09:11:53 PM

by Tom Clements

As much as I had deep reservations about Corbyn’s ability to win an election, I hadn’t expected us to fall as low as we did on Thursday. After the initial anger started to fade, the stark realisation that we could yet drop further brought a resolute determination. We must do better next time.

But before we can start to think about winning the leadership of the Party, we need to accept some of the blame for allowing the Party to fall into disrepute. It was our failure in 2015 to challenge Corbyn on policy rather than management that allowed Corbynism to blossom in our Party and wilt in the country.

But now we’re here again, we have to grasp this opportunity. We need to work to ensure that a viable, progressive leader emerges victorious in 2020. To elect someone that resonates with the country rather than plays the right notes to the Party. We might not get another chance.

To do that, however, we have to be more than competent managers. And our vision can’t be a return to Blair or Wilson. We can’t just repeat history and expect it to work but we can look for the rhymes.

In 2006, Tony Blair declared that the USP of New Labour was “aspiration and compassion reconciled”. He was successful because he appreciated that to be able to help those at the bottom, you had to support people to do better for themselves and their families. It was this revolutionary combination that allowed Blair to build a coalition that was able to inspire the country.

But not only is that not enough today, it is not right for today.

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With each passing week, McDonnell becomes more like Brown to Corbyn’s Blair

07/01/2019, 10:41:33 PM

by David Talbot

In September 2015 Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party, was finishing his first speech to the party faithful. Embracing the mandate for change, Corbyn, with a wry nod halfway through, noted that “things can – and they will – change”. In the preceding three years, via an internal challenge and a general election, the nature of the Labour Party has been transformed in his image. Corbyn was of course in part elected, twice, as Labour leader precisely because he represented a riposte to the previous Labour governments and to, of course, the loathed Tony Blair. However, an aspect of the duopoly which so dominated the party throughout its years in government is set to be replicated, ironically, by those who have dedicated the most to repudiating him, his image and his governments.

John McDonnell was not a universally welcomed appointment when Corbyn gave his longstanding comrade the position of Shadow Chancellor over three years ago. The antipathy reached its peak during the botched leadership challenge to Corbyn during 2016, when murmurs reached a crescendo that his departure was desperately needed to restore some semblance of party unity. The fiery, left-wing firebrand made enemies in his own party as easily as amongst the Conservatives, his reputation as a deeply divisive and electorally poisonous figure seemingly cemented.

The scepticism extended as far as Corbyn’s innermost circle, who grew to distrust the Shadow Chancellor – an opinion also widely held amongst the trade unions who had dealt with him for decades. In his early throes he actively coveted controversy and attrition, from his ‘communist salute’ at the 2015 party conference to labelling Labour moderates “fucking useless” in their cack-handed attempts to dispose the new Labour leader. Since then, a transition has begun as ambitious and calculated as the work of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to transform the electoral prospects of a moribund party in the mid-1990s.

And it is to these two towering figures of the last chapter of the Labour Party that is becoming ever more prevalent for the new, Corbyn-led, chapter. The rivalry and trench warfare, often for the sheer sake of it, that came to characterise the then Labour leader and his Chancellor is fracturing into the open between Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor. Over the summer, when Labour descended into a bitter dispute over anti-Semitism, it was the Shadow Chancellor, through the pages of the Times no less, that organ of the establishment, who made it known that he disapproved of Corbyn’s handling of the sorry saga. As to with the terrorist incident in Salisbury, where McDonnell, not Corbyn, voiced support for the security services and stated unequivocally it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible.

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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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