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.