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Blair had the wrong programme not the “wrong voters”

blair with red backgroundSorry to get snoring boring about Tony Blair once more, but I have to say a few words about the silly phrasing Neal Lawson used while penning a New Year’s message to the former Labour leader. The first rule of polemic is not to hand your opponent a shield that can parry your blows, and that is exactly what Neal did. By dropping in “your majority was too big” and “but in hindsight the wrong people were voting Labour“, he allowed himself to be painted as both a naïf and someone not serious about electoral politics. No wonder the remaining friends of Blair, such as John Rentoul, Dan Hodges, and some over at Uncut were able to make hay. They were able to body swerve the core of the argument – that Labour was always going to win in ’97, that the New Labour guff was unnecessary, that in power Blair was dismally unambitious and championed British capital to the exclusion of all else. A good job for them too because it’s an inconvenient truth some would prefer not to deal with.

Is there anything to this wrong type of voter claim? Blair bent over backwards to keep his tent as broad as possible. The hairy-arsed trade unionists, who didn’t have anywhere else to go, were made to sit in the corner like an embarrassing relative. The prime spots were reserved for the rich, whether they paid their taxes or not. It was the nearest politics has ever come to a group hug, but as Neal puts it “what meaningful project includes everyone?” Quite. Neal however gets it the wrong way round. As a socialist and a Labour person, I am intensely relaxed about the wealthy supporting us. It would be a good thing if Tory-leaning voters wherever they are took their ballots and scribbled their crosses against our candidates. I want these people to vote for us. The problem with Blair is not so much the constituency he attracted, but the programme he ran on.

New Labour didn’t win three elections on the trot because it was New Labour. It won because it was a much better option than the alternative. In 1997 at the height of Blair mania, Labour polled half a million fewer votes than Major’s Tories did five years before. I was around then, I don’t remember a tsunami of true blue enthusiasm crashing over the country before or after. By 2001, New Labour‘s vote fell to beneath the amount Kinnock polled nine years before and not a great deal more than 1987’s performance. The hype surrounding Blair’s political genius is just that.

New Labour‘s programme was preferable at all times to the burnt offerings overcooked by Major, Hague, and Howard, but ultimately it did heavy damage to the party’s medium and long-term interests. A lesson long ago learned by the Tories is never to attack your constituency. Under Blair, his fawning in front of business and dull managerialism saw the introduction of policy after policy that made life for working people more insecure. It was under his watch that the great pension roll back took hold, where employers – public and private – were given licence to take payment holidays, allowing them to later claim the funds were unsustainable. Schemes were closed, pension entitlements reduced, and retirement ages raised.

It was under Blair that marketisation and outsourcing came into play, undermining the living conditions and security of workers who should be Labour’s natural constituency. Under New Labour British manufacturing was allowed to spiral down further, destroying hundreds of thousands of relatively well paid and secure jobs. Too many times low paid and insecure agency work filled the employment gap. And when people were out of work, they were harassed and threatened with forced labour on workfare and a punitive sanction regime. The difficulties Labour are experiencing now and why many millions of the people our party was set up to represent won’t give us time of day now is because then it ignored them.

I want the “wrong voters” to support us for the right reasons, not because we’re stuffing their mouths with gold because we’re kicking our people in the teeth. The “right reasons” in 2015 is not a programme calling for the nationalisation of the top 100 monopolies and the raising of the red flag above Buckingham Palace. It is a practical strategy putting insecurity and combating it at the start, and makes the argument that Britain can only prosper if people feel secure and comfortable in themselves. Hardly radical stuff, really. Only a programme of this kind can undo the damage the Blair period did to our party. Our future lies in knitting our constituency and our class back together.

2 Comments

  1. swatantra says:

    PB-C hits the right notes again.
    Yes Labour was going to win any way, after 4 terms and an exhausted John Major the Torie were pretty knackered. And Yes, Tony’s majority was gynormous and probably underserved, and went to his head, but thats the fault of the FPTP and not on Blairs attraction, getting less votes than Foot. It was whittled down in 2001 and even more in 2005. A majority of say 50+ is about right as the Coalition has proved to get legislation like Student Fees and Bedroom tax and Syria through. Blair will be remembered more for his Equalities programme than his disastrous Foreign Policy playing poodle to the USA. Also he will be remembered for his attempts at Constitutional Reform and Modernisation of Govt.
    He was also prepared to understand that the World had changed and we were in a competitive Market whether we liked it or not and Britain had to change and be more Business minded and friendly; we are still undergoing that societal change where no job is for life and we have to create work and wealth and that the world does not owe Britain a living, something which the Unions are going to have to grasp with pretty soon.
    And this societal change therefore led to traditional support for Labour falling away. But it was bound to happen; because people were voting out of loyalty, not out of thinking. Labour has to restate their Principles, in a modern context, and begin to understand that even the Health Servioce can no longer be a sacred cow. It too is going to have to face up to reform as Frank Field has suggested and a recent comment last week about asking yourself what is the value of life if there is no quality to it; too much money is being spent on keeping people with no chances a good life. We need to integrate Health and Social Care and accept that
    the money is going to have to be targeted where we are nvesting for a future; it’ll be a giant leap forward. The NHS of 1945 can no longer be funded, and should no longer be funded along the same lines.
    And incidently the 1945 Election was also another predictable Labour win, in fact anyone other than the Tories would have been preffered because it had been the Tories that had led Britain into a War which Britain didn’t really win, as EdM said today.

  2. John reid says:

    Yes Blair did get less votes than Kinnock in 92 as it was obvious labour was going to win in 2001 and a lot of people abstained, but then the 92 election was the most important one ever, where labour weren’t going to win in 1987 and werent fit to rule, labour had a good chance to win on a manifesto to increase the higher rate of tax, it was a 77% turn out ,Kinnock lost with 11.56m votes 200,000 more than wilson won in October 74 on, with the Tories getting the highest vote ever

    Where the tories were wounded after the ERam,they had come back from far behind before, and Roosevelt and Truman won 5 elections for the democrats,so the Tories could have won in 97 if things were different

    And the reason labour won in 97 wasn’t due to the wrong policies, and had labour had the policies, you want we’d have lost as those policies had been rejected 4 times,

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