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Why a Blairite party-within-a-party is a structural obstacle to Labour’s revival

In the face of defeat in Bradford, Ed Miliband has recognised that Labour needs “real, deep, genuine change” to reconnect with the 5 million voters lost under New Labour. At the same time, Labour right-wingers like Luke Akehurst express “disgust that other Labour members can put aside loyalty to their party to express solidarity not only with the voters of Bradford West who rejected Labour but even with Respect leader Salma Yaqoob. They fail to recognise that what prevents others feeling the tribal loyalty they espouse is the very same barrier that is preventing Labour breaking through to regain the support of its lost core voters. And it is Blairism.

At the heart of the ideology which is the legacy of Blair (and underpins the party-within-a-party, Progress, which he created to sustain it) is a rejection of the politics of class and equality, and of the organisations of labour that created Labour to promote them. Blairism has no interest in the redistribution of wealth and power; the removal of reference to redistribution in Clause IV was not symbolic. Its loyalty is to those who own and manage business, and its practice is managerial.

The only equality to which Blairism pays lipservice is equality of opportunity, that false hope that cannot be delivered without a much deeper equality. Blairism offers the politics of the American dream, the politics of “I want to be a Millionaire“.

This is not true of the traditional Labour right. They share the Centre-Left’s understanding of class inequality. They support the redistribution of wealth and power. They understand the need for trade unions and solidarity, for collective decision-making and action.

The division between the traditional Labour right and the Blairites is roughly the division between Labour First and Progress, though many individuals operate in denial of the underlying differences. New Labour habits die hard. And many traditional right-wingers undoubtedly see the alliance of Labour First and Progress as necessary to restrain the party from a shift to the Left.

What all those who share social democratic values, left and right, should understand is that demonstrating a commitment to class equality and to solidarity, and to making a total break with Blairism, is absolutely essential to winning back those 5 million voters. It may be hard for those who remain grateful to Blair for the victories over which he presided as leader, or who suffer the cognitive dissonance resulting from their own involvement in his government. But unless we make that break, we will not breakthrough to win.

And they should also understand that the reason so many of those who have social democratic values are so unsympathetic towards Progress is not so much the money and the influence bought, not the lack of openness, internal democracy and transparency — we have grown used to these things under New Labour — it is that they see the values of Blairism, and Blair himself, as alien to social democracy.

5 Comments

  1. JonWilliams says:

    Split parties lose elections. Talk of divisions brings back memories of the 80’s. Blair won three elections (with mixed results) and attracted Middle England voters – especially in the South -maybe instead of Labour’s traditional voters – “the five million”.
    So can Ed bring together competing wings of the party whilst encouraging enough voters to support him in 2015? Perhaps a few more statements of what the “Refounding” Labour policies are going to be would help lost Labour voters rejoin – hopefully ones that promote social democratic values and a majority of voters can understand.

  2. Malcolm Bush says:

    I don’t think the Labour Party has a real identity or ethos. We just want to win the all important election. We don’t care how or why we win as long as we win. That is what politics is about, George Galloway does not predominantly think about winning; he focuses on this party’s ideology and telling the truth. Ironically that’s the easy way to win an election.

  3. Steve Brown says:

    Blair resided over victories, not because of any policies which were cobbled together at the time or his popularity, but because of the boom in the economy and the revulsion with the Tories. One word not mentioned above is Capitalism, for it is the adherance to this system that permiates the policies of New Labour and Ed Milliblands continued slavish support of to it. The Party has to re-connect with the working class and put forward socialist policies, i.e. public ownership of the means of production and to place the economy in the hands of working people. Unity at all costs, as is mentioned above, means nothing if workers are being attacked, either by Labour or the Tories. Workers will vote for socialism every time. this is what the mongers of the free market truly fear!

  4. Patrick Frondigoun says:

    “Workers will vote for socialism every time”

    Wishful thinking, I’m afraid. I know of a number of working class people that won’t vote Labour at any cost because they believe the tripe that the Tories and right-wing press tell them, and get scaremongered into voting for them. And then there’s the “yes, I’m working class but I want to be seen as middle class” brigade who vote Tory so they come across as not working class. The only workers who vote for socialism every time are the ones who have at least primative knowledge of which side their bread is buttered.

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