Perpetual opposition? – A reply to Luke Boizer
Luke Boizer is something of a contrarian and as somebody who is often accused of being somewhat similar I have to tilt my cap in his direction in admiration of his ability to at the very least get you thinking. On LabourList, he muses that Labour seems to have a ‘malignant’ element in its psyche which condemns it to perpetual opposition. He sees the election of Ed Miliband as proof of the existence of this element. He identifies this cancer and sees the antidote as a return to ‘New Labour’.
He thunders about its ‘three concurrent electoral victories’ with no understanding too or reference to the context in which these occurred. It is as if, ‘New Labour’ is this mythic force of nature which by very dint of its being can walk on electoral water and take the Party with it; Blair seems to have been a veritable Moses of the modern age. No doubt the man himself would secretly love such a comparison, sadly it does not stand up to much scrutiny.
Blair and Blairism were at the height of their electoral powers in 1997. Faced with a clapped-out Conservative Party it is not unreasonable to say that any leader of the Labour Party would have found themselves in Number 10 at the end of that heady year. Blair, however, maximised his advantage by making Labour and his creed appear to be a radical and dynamic force, so I will concede this made the Labour victory greater than it would have been. If you look at the 1997 manifesto however, it was the promise of radicalism which infected and captured the public imagination – not the staid small ‘c’ conservatism that todays Blairites now try to foist upon an unwilling Labour Party. By 2001 the dynamism and energy of 97 had vanished but they still lingered long enough to give Blair a convincing victory. Discontent amoung the electorate was registered many in a curtailed turnout and a weary shrug of the shoulders.
In 2005, Blair and Labour were again saved by an apathetic public and an incompetent opposition. However, Blair himself had lost the trust of the electorate which had been shattered by his campaign of deceit which led the public and the country into the quagmire of Iraq. Mass switching occurred primarily between Labour and the Liberal Democrats and again discontented people simply switched off from politics. By the time 2010 came around nothing could save a doomed Labour Party, tainted as it was with the stench of Iraq and a litany of bad decisions (like the infamous 10p tax debacle). The public still didn’t really want the opposition but neither did they want us.
My point is that Luke’s historiography is badly skewed by his own ideological perspective. Labour did achieve some wonderful things in office but our three terms were not the glorious march to the promised land that Luke tells us they were. Nor do they suggest that as a leader Tony Blair was anything approaching our Messiah. He is right in some regards about the leadership of Ed Miliband which, it is rapidly becoming clear, is a caretaker affair. Ed’s role is to oversee our transition and our renewal, not to govern this country as a Labour Prime Minister. His soft n’ cuddly demeanour in someway best suits that role – it is comforting as Luke suggests it is and in that regard he is a comfort-zone choice.
However, and this is where I agree with Luke, there is no point staying in that comfort zone. In plain English, what Labour needs is to feel the fire of self-renewal and part of this catharsis is an honest and open scrap between the different wings of the Party about not just the past but our future too. The wing that Luke advocates so eloquently for ultimately has nothing of use to say. Luke has already shown us he doesn’t understand the genesis of his own creed and what made it a vital and living force in the past and consequentially a dead and decaying force in the here and now. Like Marxist apostles of the true word, the Blairites quote the word of The Man as if it was carved on tablets of stone. Life however is not written on tablets of stone.
The Blairites and indeed Luke himself simply havent dealt with the realities that have invalidated Blairism – just like they haven’t dealt with their idols and their own fall from grace within Labour. Primary amoung these is the financial crash – people simply don’t want a Labour Party that is ‘relaxed about people getting filthy rich’ – they want a Labour Party that is going to do something about the excesses of the filthy rich and the structural inequities that allowed these to bring this country to its economic knees.
Ed Miliband has started to articulate that in his own bumbling, inept way. However, there is no sign that he has the courage to take it all to its logical conclusions, so what we will be left with is a half-way house. His flaws are largely personal I am afraid to say yet they find themselves repeatedly in the lattice-work of his politics – the charge of providing ineffective opposition and failing to connect is substantially true. However, the problems are not with Ed’s occasional dashes of being left-wing but with Ed himself as leader. An effective and strong opposition can be provided by a Labour Party leaning leftwards but not one led by Ed Miliband.
If Luke thinks that Blairism will connect Labour with the voters he is gravely mistaken. As I have said, the bond between the electorate and Blairism was shattered many years ago and was never really that substantial. Most of the left see the choice as being between Ed Miliband’s leadership and a return to Blairism but I do not think this is the case – although it may appear so on the surface, perhaps one enduring lesson that we should take from the Blair experience that there can be a third way. It is down that path that the road back to government lies – not down the cul d sac offered us by Luke nor the tangled and confused path into the abyss offered us by Ed. We should be brave and bold and take that path and in doing so, capture something of the spiritual zest Blairism exhibited in its early days but which has now deserted it, leaving it nothing but a hollow shell.