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The Blairite ultras would lead Labour to surrender. They must be stopped

I never thought I’d say but it but, Christ, I don’t half know how Thatcher felt. Until her administration came and put the ‘Great’ back into ‘Great Britain’ (and all that), post-war Britain was a picture of despair for Maggie. The Tories had capitulated to the political settlement established by Clement Attlee’s 1945 government, with just a few tweaks. Post-war politics were a “socialist ratchet”, she claimed: “Labour moved Britain towards more statism; the Tories stood pat; and the next Labour Government moved the country a little further left. The Tories loosened the corset of socialism; they never removed it.”

When I read an article by Labour’s former General Secretary, Peter Wattcalling on the party to accept the Tories’ cuts agenda wholesale, I was reminded about how much this has all been turned around. You could say: “The Tories move Britain towards more neo-liberalism, New Labour stands pat; and the next Tory Government moved the country a little further right. New Labour loosened the corset of neo-liberalism, they never removed it.” If the likes of Watt have their way, that is what will happen if Labour win the next election.

Watt is a curious individual. He was, frankly, a terrible General Secretary, but he was treated badly by Gordon Brown and his undoubtedly bullying henchmen. He was effectively made a fall-guy for Labour’s donors’ scandal, and that was wrong.

That did not in any way excuse his subsequent behaviour: right-wing Tory Iain Dale published Watt’s insider account in January 2010, full of all sorts of hugely damaging revelations about the behind-the-scenes workings of the Brown regime. Watt presumably felt he was entitled to get his revenge against his unscrupulous former employer: but all he did was feed the right-wing press (who were delighted) and contribute – in however small a way – to the defeat of Labour in May 2010. Why anyone in the Labour Party would have any dealings with such an individual ever again is completely beyond me.

Watt says a lot about the loyalty (or lack thereof) many Blairite ultras have towards the Labour Party. They led repeated attempted coups – based on personality, not policy – against Brown; which the left, so often accused of disloyalty, had nothing to do with. Indeed, I remember a debate at Poplar and Limehouse CLP in which Blairite rebel Charles Clarke (hic) suggested left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell leave the Labour Party because of his disloyalty. Clarke lost his seat in 2010; McDonnell increased Labour’s majority. Now Labour is out of office, the likes of John Hutton and Alan Milburn are working as advisors to the Tory-led Government.

The Blairite ultras were demoralised by the defeat of David Miliband in Labour’s leadership election: but don’t kid yourself, they’re still kicking about alright, and they’re waiting in the wings for Ed Miliband’s failure, which they both anticipate and desire. As far as they are concerned, only a pure Blairite formula can deliver electoral success, and they do not wish this narrative to be disproved.

Peter Watt is far from alone among Blairite ultras in calling for Labour to accept the Tories’ spending plans. The Great Leader himself, Tony Blair, effectively called for Labour to accept the Tories’ economic policies in his memoirs; he even advised Cameron to resist the Lib Dems’ ‘Old Labour’ tendencies. The likes of Dan Hodges – who edits the Labour Uncut website, and is a committed opponent of Ed Miliband – have similarly called for Labour to accept the Tories’ cuts agenda.

There are Blairite maneuverings against Ed Miliband at the top of the Party, too. Both Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy are positioning themselves behind the scenes. Miliband has few real allies in the Shadow Cabinet: they effectively boil down to Peter Hain, Hilary Benn, John Denham and Sadiq Khan. So much of the policy vacuum can be explained by the continued strength of the Blairite right, and the failure of countervailing pressure from the left that would provide a support base for a genuinely progressive agenda.

Have no doubt: Blairite ultras like Peter Watt want us to capitulate to the Tories. In his article, Watt says “the first thing that we should do is just accept the Tory spending plans as set out in the spending review”. It would, he believes, “be bold and brave and, at a stroke, we will give ourselves permission to be heard again on the economy.”

Why we would be heard on the economy if we’re just parroting the line of the Government is a bizarre stance. Labour might as well second its press officers to George Osborne.

Indeed, if Labour were to take Watt’s advice, it should just shut shop and be done with it. What would be the point of it if it was backing the centrepiece of the Tories’ domestic agenda, the most sweeping cuts for nearly a century? Our differences would purely managerial: over issues like competence. But, frankly, we could do that from within the confines of the Conservative Party.

Blairite ultras like Peter Watt put socialists like myself in a curious position, because they force us to defend New Labour’s economic record against, well, New Labour. Blairite ultras buy into the myth that the deficit was caused by Labour’s overspending, rather than by a financial crash which caused a collapse in tax revenues and increased benefit payments to those thrown out of work.

In doing so, they become useful idiots for the Tory party. As the Conservative Party press team gleefully tweeted: “Ex-Labour Gen Sec Peter Watt implores his party 2 ‘stop fighting the cuts’ + ‘start talking bout the future’…ouch” The Tories use the siren voices of ultra-Blairism to vindicate their ideological offensive against the welfare state: ‘even sane people in the Labour Party agree with us’, they say. And, above all, they are a block on Labour developing a genuine coherent alternative to the Tory cuts agenda.

I don’t know where the political journey of the Blairite ultras will take them. It’s worth looking at the history of the neo-conservatives in the US: they started out as Democrats. Even as they became disenchanted with the Democrats, they couldn’t bring themselves to join the Republicans for cultural reasons: many were from working-class backgrounds and had grown up regarding them as the political wing of the wealthy. They eventually got over it, though, and became the most ardent Republicans around.

I’m not that interested about whether some Blairite ultras end up jumping ship or not. But they are – inarguably – allied to the Tories’ economic agenda, and they are committed to ensuring Ed Miliband fails. They must be defeated, and be seen to be defeated, if Labour is to offer a genuine alternative to this horrendous government.

2 Comments

  1. Gary Elsby says:

    How many Labour CLPs are in ‘special measures’ at this moment in time and for what reasons?

    This is how they do it.

  2. Matty says:

    Excellent article, Peter Watt and the ultra-Blairites are appalling.

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