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Blairite triangulation & personality politics paved way for Osborne’s nasty party

Liz Kendall for Tory Leader (spoof site)Jeremy Corbyn really doesn’t do personal attacks and nor does his campaign. You can therefore rest assured that the spoof Facebook page promoting Liz Kendall for Conservative Leader has nothing to do with team Corbyn. The Telegraph yesterday claimed it “opens up fresh Labour divisions” based on criticisms of the spoof by Kendall supporting John Woodcock MP. But negative campaigning  has also emerged from the Kendall camp itself. Most notable was the attack on both Burnham and Cooper as “continuity Miliband” candidates that came from the very same John Woodcock (as noted by Luke Akehurst):

If those who seek to take his place think the route to victory in the leadership contest is continuity Miliband with a different accent or gender (our emphasis – Ed), or with a higher level of emotional connection, they will consign Labour to another defeat at the next general election.

Now it is certainly true that there is some distance between both Burnham and Cooper and Liz Kendall (described by one in their camps as “Taliban New Labour“) but they are both keen to row back from the leftwards shift made by Ed Miliband. Woodcock was merely smearing both them and Ed in a single swipe. But both rose through the ranks in the New Labour years when political positions were struck in relation to the Tories based on triangulation rather than political principles or ideology, and internally based on the personality conflict between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. And their policy pronouncements since 7 May reflect a return to that approach.

Unfortunately for all of us in the Labour Party, the Tories have learnt well the lessons of Blair. That was evident in yesterday’s budget – utterly manipulative, a trick of smoke and mirrors designed to conceal the true purpose. To divide and rule the working class, appearing to favour “working people” whilst actually significantly advancing the interests of the richest.

In the long run, it may do them no more good than such tricks did for us in the end, winning three elections yes but on steeply reducing shares of the electorate. In the meantime the Tories’ selective stealing of policies and language will enable them to convince at least some people that they are the “real workers party” whilst leaving us looking out-manoeuvred and pathetically timid:

  • by promising a ‘living wage”‘ of £9 by 2020 when our leaders promised only £8 and repeatedly resisted trade union proposals to make it more;
  • by promising to maintain a 45% tax rate when Labour has already abandoned Ed Miliband’s promised return to 50%;
  • by promising to abolish non-dom status and squeeze private landlords and charge an 8% “surcharge” on bank profits, whilst Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham talk about the need for Labour to be business-friendly again.

Of course these are fake and hollow commitments by Osborne balanced by other actions which more than compensate the rich. Doing one thing whilst pointing your rhetoric in the opposite direction is what they have learnt from New Labour. Relying on image rather than substance, who needs truth and honesty in politics when you have spin and a strong leader?

With our rhetoric about “a hand-up, not a hand-out“, we fuelled fears about policy on the welfare state and paved the way for even nastier rhetoric about “strivers versus shirkers“. We rubbished the role of the state whilst lauding the market and talking of “reform“. It did mean that we captured some erstwhile Tory voters for a while, and allowed Labour governments to build schools and hospitals (albeit ones that with PFI end up costing far much) and relieve poverty (albeit at the cost of encouraging employers to pay too little and landlords to charge too much). But it also began to destroy our core vote, driving working class voters to UKIP and the SNP.

It may be that, as Chris Dillow puts it, “Blair tried to combine the best features of left and right, yesterday’s Budget combined the worst“. Unfortunately, triangulation might work better for the Right, as divide and rule usually does. Osborne clearly hopes that it will make Tory allies of working class UKIP voters. And unless Labour rediscovers the politics of class, a willingness to combat the inequality and social division the Tories are so keen to foster, the meltdown Labour has already faced in Scotland will undoubtedly spread to England and Wales.

Image credit: from spoof site Liz Kendall for Conservative Leader 

31 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    But you must admit Kendall would fit in nice as the leader of the Tories, she is without doubt the most right wing Progress drone with Reeves of course still in labour. Burnham and Cooper would love to return to New labour it’s what they lived for, but I’m not interested I suspect the next election is already in bag for the Tories.

    Corbyn is to the left sadly labour is not and that is his problem.

    I may as well retire from voting

  2. gerry says:

    Interesting article but I think you are wrong to say that Osborne’s budget and Tory policies are continuations of Blair/New Labour “triangulation” – they are not, and heres why…

    The Conservatives have always attracted large chunks of working class votes since universal suffrage: because of these votes, especially C2 skilled workers and older working class men and women, they have been in government for most of the last 87 years since every adult got the vote.

    In the 1979, 1983, 1987 and above all the 1992 elections it was working class Tory votes which embedded Thatcherism as the centre ground – and that us where we are today: still! David Cameron is resurrecting the formula which Thatcher and Major used to devastating effect, and – with a little help from UKIP voters – it is working all over again.

    We are really back to the 1980s electorally and demographically – skilled workers, older voters, every age group but the young voted Tory or UKIP by big margins in 2015. Even the lowest social groups, DE, voted Tory or UKIP (43%) than Labour (41%)! And of course so few young people bothered to vote – hence why the cuts can be targeted at them with no electoral comeback.

    The real question, Jon is – how do we neutralise the deep and lasting appeal parties of the Right ( Tory, UKIP, or in the 1980s the Alliance) have for working class Britain, a country where the biggest supporters of benefit cuts, benefits caps, the bedroom tax etc are other working class voters: you call it ” divide and rule” but since universal suffrage in 1928 it has worked time and time again, and this is the key to understanding why the Tories do what they do, and how they are so successful in getting working class voters to vote for them, or now the even more Thatcherite UKIP, again and again.

  3. Mukkinese says:

    I have never been so tired and depressed with Labour as I am now. I was not happy with the Blairite party, but regarded it as far better than the real Tories. It is much the same with Kendall, but this refusal of the party to fight and fight for the poor and ordinary workers is like another slap in the face after the election result.

    Real people will really suffer, and Labour will make a few noises, but capitulate to the Tories in the end. Why? Because they are even more afraid of the press now than ever before.

    That is why social justice has been abandoned for “aspiration” and why they seem to be eager to find a way to agree with the Tories on the economy. Even why they made the idiot step of saying Labour spent too much instead of asking “If Labour spent too much why did George Osborne promise to match the levels of spending “penny for penny”?

    I think we will see Labour lose again, despite Osborne’s house of cards built on shaky ground. If we refuse to fight the story given by the Tories and repeated enthusiastically be the press, then how can we hope to swing opinion away from their con tricks?

    The poor are screwed and until the anger builds to a level where a new leader of the people rises they will continue to be screwed, because Labour are not giving them the slightest reason to hope…

    1. Tim Barlow says:

      Cheer up, Mukkinese! Jeremy Corbyn’s got a better chance of winning the leadership than most people realise. I’m convinced that, as his profile rises, we’ll see disillusioned ex-Labour voters coming back in droves. Once they see the party being lead by a recognisably Labour figure, with charisma and gravitas, who’s connected to the people and their concerns, not an apologist for the ruling class, there’ll be a proper Labour surge and a genuine opposition to Austerity…

      1. gerry says:

        Ex-Labour voters will come back in droves? You are having a laugh….you actually believe all those who voted UKIP (4 million) are going to flock to Jeremy who backs open-door immigration and the EU? He called UKIP voters “racist or desperate” just a few days ago too…..keep taking the tablets, Tim….

        1. John P Reid says:

          Quite

  4. Billericaydickie says:

    As always Jon, you are wrong. At least you are consistent.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Why?
      O.k las and says Kendall’s camp’s, claim that Burnham is continuity Miliband is a attack, she might have been saying it as a compliment,
      Although Robert is right,it’s certainly not true,and boy Burnham and Cooper would both be new lapbur within 6 months of a possible leadership win,

  5. Jon Williams says:

    To win Labour has to win votes from both left and right of the country i.e. Centre ground. If that’s triangulation or third way, the best candidate is Kendall.

    1. Robert says:

      Then vote Tory you get the real thing not a Progress done.

    2. Rod says:

      Did you see Kendall’s car-crash performance on Channel 4 News?

      She’s an electoral liability, not an asset.

    3. John P Reid says:

      Quite Jon,but you need to say why you want labour to win,not just a osiclaistutopia,under Corbyn,that’s never going to happen as the public wouldn’t want it,anymore than they would have wanted Foot,,because if you say we need e centre ground,it’s conceding hat however save the Tory cuts are,they stillinthepublicsmond dominatethe centre round ,and that if Boris replacesCam,thentheyllhaveswung thecentre ground way to the roght of even Reeves,and Chuka, etc

      1. Rod says:

        Corbyn is a centre-ground politician. Polling shows that many of the policies he promotes are supported by a majority of the electorate.

        Kendall or other Blairite leadership candidates will only succeed if they are able to conceal their intentions from the electorate but they lack the political talent this requires.

        In an era of austerity ‘aspiration’ twaddle has little purchase beyond the Westminster bubble.

        1. gerry says:

          Polling also shows that the 15-16 million people who voted Tory or UKIP (50% of those who voted) wanted, in order: no tax rises, a referendum on Europe, reduced immigration, cuts to benefits except for pensioners…some left policies are popular too ( nationalisation of rail,eg) but voters put those policies way behind tax, economy, immigration, NHS, benefits: you are seriously deluding yourself if you think otherwise.

          1. Rod says:

            The NHS was the primary concern of most voters. Yet the Labour Party, like the Tories, favours privatisation of the NHS: handing the NHS – along with £billions of tax-payer-funded subsidies – to the unaccountable corporate sector.

            And Labour attempted to mimic other Tory policies at the last election: “tougher than the Tories on benefits”, pro-austerity, pro-Trident, backing for disastrous military intervention (Libya), anti-immigration etc.

            All that was missing was a EU referendum pledge (the Blairites couldn’t stomach that, also they didn’t think UKIP posed a significant threat).

            The New Labour years have lumbered the LP with a credibility problem. Labour isn’t going to regain trust, nor will Labour win votes, by opportunistically mimicking whatever policies the Tories prefer.

            Labour didn’t win in 2015 and there is no reason to think, by doing the same, Labour will win the election in 2020.

  6. gerry says:

    Sadly Rod – Benefits cuts, reduced immigration, Trident renewal, Euro referendum are popular with Labour voters too, not just Tory/UkIp voters: so you are factually wrong.

    And most of the voters lost by New Labour didn’t go to the left (TUSC, Respect, Greens) – some initially went Lib Dem (over the Iraq war) and most went in 2015 to the uberThatcherite UKIP. New Labour’s pro- European and pro- immigration policies alienated huge swathes of working class Britain.

    You are right in one respect though: the ONLY way a left Labour could ever get close to power is if we persuade at least 5 million more people who didn’t vote for us in 2015 to do so in 2020, and even that mightn’t win us an election.

    A Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party would never win over UKIP, Tory or Lib Dem voters, and there were 18 million of those in 2015!

    Liz or Andy or Yvette would have a herculean task too, but might actually be able to win ex UKIP, Tory or Lib Dem voters. Either way the electoral near future looks grim…

    1. Rod says:

      “… the electoral near future looks grim…”

      I’ll agree with you there.

      There appears to be no way back for Labour in Scotland.

      Without a Corbyn win the tide of disillusionment with the LP will most likely sweep southwards, perhaps with UKIP (the anti-Establishment reflex) as the main beneficiary.

      I must admit, I’ve been tempted to vote UKIP simply because of their opposition to military intervention and, in particular, their opposition to the EU’s war-mongering in Ukraine.

      1. gerry says:

        Rod – that’s honest of you to admit that you have thought of voting UKIP. I am one of those Labour people who will always vote Labour – be it led by Liz Kendall or Jeremy Corbyn: I am a tribalist….but I have no illusions about the UK electorate as a whole, and politically this country is small c conservative.

        I share UKIP’s detestation of the EU, military adventures overseas, and open door immigration but would never vote for them as they are unreconstructed Thatcherites and neoliberals, and are reactionary nationalists, just like the SNP…

        1. John P Reid says:

          You’re right on both bits Gerry, but even if JC wins, and labour gets 15% of the vote in the 2020 election you won’t convince people here

          1. gerry says:

            Thanks John – I can’t help stating the electoral facts though, esp about why so many working class people vote for parties of the Right! I do think that under JC we might get more than 15%, but who knows….?

        2. Rod says:

          “I share UKIP’s detestation of the EU, military adventures overseas, and open door immigration… ”

          Yet you vote Labour?!

          Do you also holiday at the North Pole in order to escape cold weather?

          But seriously, if, as you claim, “politically this country is small c conservative” doesn’t it strike you as being somewhat odd that millions of people vote for “unreconstructed Thatcherites and neoliberals, and (…) reactionary nationalists”?

          I’d say that Corbyn was on target when he partly attributed the anti-Establishment vote to desperation.

          But retreating into a Blairite comfort zone is no way to deal with the desperately difficult problems we confront.

          1. gerry says:

            Rod – you should know that being anti EU, and anti NATO, was mainstream left Labour stuff right up to the end of the 1980s! And you should know that many Labour voters share my hostility to further immigration, esp EU immigration…one of the reasons I loathed New Labour.

            And its because the UK is small c conservative that millions of people in the 1980s voted Alliance and Tory(70% in 1983!), and now UKIP and Tory (50% in 2015)…

  7. Patrick says:

    How many of you are paid up members of the Labour Party, none I expect.
    JC is the first step on the road back for Labour, we have younger members ready for 2025 and beyond.

    1. gerry says:

      Patrick – Labour member since 1979, with a few years off!

    2. Tim Barlow says:

      Quite.
      In fact JC is the ONLY road back for Labour. If the party ends up being lead by any of the others, it ought to be honest with the voters, change it’s name and let the party die with him. It would be a fitting end.

      1. John P Reid says:

        Maybe in 1979′ the description labour had on its definition statement , of a democratic socialist party, should have got rid of the democratic bit.

    3. Rod says:

      I started voting Labour in the Harold Wilson era and have never voted for any other party.

      I’ll be voting JC in Labour’s leadership election.

      And if he doesn’t win it is difficult to see how the LP can become relevant again. Certainly, Labour won’t get my vote without JC as leader.

      There’s nothing heroic about going down with the Labour ship when there’s a Blairite careerist at the helm cluelessly steering towards disaster (think Murphy).

  8. David Ellis says:

    Thanks to a century of imperialism and before that colonialism the British working class and labour movement is riddled with opportunism. The idea that the capitalist system can be reformed and wage slavery made more comfortable is all too prevalent hence the reliance on polls and triangulation instead of programme and a sense of historic mission. That is changing though as capitalism is now definitively fucked. Monopolised, stagnant, sclerotic and now irrevocably bankrupt globalisation behind a single imperial power was the best it could achieve but that height has been passed. The film of globalisation is being rewound. America is sinking rapidly into its own domestic turmoil. A New Dark Ages beckons but of course so does world proletarian revolution te only thing that can transcend capitalist globalisation and start human kind on the next leg of its journey.

    1. gerry says:

      David – as usual, amazing analysis…and though I have no evidence to back you up, I can’t help feeling you are on to something historically. I also agree we are living in an age of zombie fake economies, with socialism for the rich and corpse-capitalism for the rest, and as you say, a new dark ages is nearly upon us.

  9. Chris says:

    Maybe we promised to raise the minimum wage by less to protect jobs? The Tories don’t care about that.

  10. Barry Ewart says:

    Perhaps Labour should be a political party.
    Trying to win people to democratic socialist ideas. And put these forward simply, clearly and passionately, to try to politicise people to come to our ideas.
    In the language you use could you take an idea to discuss on high streets, estates, workplaces?
    We should see it as a crusade to try to engage with and politicise the 15.9m who didn’t vote and who probably see all the Neo-Liberal Parties quite rightly as all being the same.
    We should also be trying to nurture a society of critical thinkers and the more there are, the stronger we will all be.
    I would argue for now Jeremy Corbyn offers the best hope and then hopefully in future Labour will be grassroots led, bottom up, and truly democratic (OMOV re policy at Conference) and power back to CLPs.
    But of course the Tories and the poisonous Right Wing press will also want Corbyn.
    They will then throw dirt, distortion and exaggeration at him plus more than the kitchen sink – they have honed their negative skills setting neighbour against neighbour re welfare, established citizens against migrants, England against Scotland, and in promoting class prejudice.
    We just need to be honest, and explain their propaganda and tell people what to expect – they do it to keep power with the rich and powerful and to stop all of you (who had) or still has to sell your labour to live from having the power.
    We should stand for the type of society (and World) we would like to see and explain this simply, clearly and well.
    I may be an old fashioned socialist but I think we have wonderful ideas which with our brothers and sisters in other countries could help unite diverse people who have to sell their labour to live, as well as meeting global human need and addressing climate change.
    We need hope in an increasingly despairing World.

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