Labour still hasnt got to grips with Blairism….
Whenever Tony Blair appears on television its guaranteed to generate a lot of Twitter heat amongst the Labour Twitterati. It’s not surprising he still has loyal followers, he was after-all electorally successful (though his actual record is overstated in its grandeur) and people like success and like winning. It is equally not surprising that people think what has gained a result before will gain a result again. However, that is a completely mistaken and complacent attitude to adopt in politics purely because things change and people’s attitudes are not fixed but constantly fluid. People don’t want the same thing from their politics that they wanted yesterday even, let alone the day before yesterday.
The thing about Blairism is that it impacted so deeply on the Labour psyche that the difficulty in moving on is also understandable. The Conservative Party went through something similar with Thatcherism and indeed the trauma of how both leaders exited the stage is something that only adds to the indelible nature of the mark that both creeds left on their respective parties. However, moving on is something that must be done, and for that to happen we need an honest assessment of the legacy, warts and all. For example, Labour may well carp about tax avoidance now but the Blairite dictum that it was perfectly ok to be ‘filthy rich’, let alone the policies we pursued, contributed to creating the moral climate in which tax avoidance was seen as a totally acceptable, normal even, practice; similarly, the Blairite embrace of schemes like Private Finance initiative have found their logical conclusion in the Coalition’s complete gutting of the public sector.
The continued presence of Mr Blair in British politics is undignified and unhelpful. Conservatives criticise Gordon Brown for being comparatively quiet as a mouse but this is the dignified and proper response to the end of ones time in power. His continued insistence on playing a ‘frontline role’ rubs salt in the wounds only stirs people up and in the long run is damaging for the Labour Party which ends up looking like it is stuck in the past. Mr Blair’s third way is dead and it died the second the banking system came crashing down. The crash exposed the fallacy that there is a ‘third way’ which can gloss over the inherent faults of capitalism and still deliver social justice.
Sadly, for the Labour Party, overcoming the toxicity of Blairism will probably take generations because a political creed is more than one man. It is a living body of ideas which is brought to life not just by the man himself but in the place it occupies in the hearts of Labour activists who politically ‘grew-up’ or became involved with Labour politics due to a body of ideas they still loyally defend. Indeed, the Conservatives are still grappling with Thatcherism and the unresolved tensions and contradictions it opened up within their Party. Ed Miliband has tried to make a start and he is trying to craft an ideological vision that is distinctive, however, up to this point that vision is incoherent and incomplete and it is still not lodged as deeply in the Labour psyche as that of his predecessor. I doubt he will be the one to complete the process of catharsis because it simply can’t be completed in the time span of one political leader. It’s a long road but its one that Labour did start on by electing Ed as leader, that is the historical significance of his (as opposed to his brothers) victory. It’s a hard road too, its hard to say goodbye to something that brought success *in its time*, but its a necessary road for Labour to travel because until it does, our elevation back to the office of government is highly unlikely to happen.