Sunday, 4 January 2015

Neal Lawson and the "Wrong Voters"

Sorry 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? For Neal, 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 less 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.


Gary Elsby said...

My party is better than yours.
My Labour party is better than your Labour party.
Gee up!

We were kicked around like a rag doll from 1979-87.
The radical plans were all sang to were dumped (circa Charles I vs Cromwell)

Utterly defeated, down and out come 1992.

Everything was about how to be better 'middle ground' politicians than they were.
Any thought of a surge to the left and fight from that corner was and is pure hogwash.
Only left-wing romantics dream of absolute victory if the red flag was waved louder.

Along comes Blair, who was good at being 'middle' than most of the rest and the rest is factual history.
Sleazy (UKIP) Tories dumped by slick middle man Tony.
New hospitals, new schools...etc etc..

I've got immigrants coming through my letterbox.

Phil said...

Gary, I can understand why some would go along with the triangulation of New Labour in the context of four lost elections, but we have the luxury of distance now. Then I thought New Labour was unnecessary, and I still think that. Anyone who thinks otherwise has to construct a plausible argument as to why Blair and no one else could win in 1997.

Gary Elsby said...

New Labour wasn't wanted in Stoke-on-Trent but there seemed quite a lot of support for John Smith who nailed the Tories every day with absolute class, calling a thief a thief. 'A not me Guv Government!'
At last we were hitting back and with class.
We'd done the correct argument and left bewildered and lost.
Now it was time to kick them in the teeth.
Most people loved Kinnock but support wained with the dreaded 'policy review' which slid the party to the right.
Only a knife edge vote (in the back of Brown by Mandy) secured the Blair victory.
The shopping list we dreamed of, the doorstep sell we now had made all Labour members feel important and credible.
Like all leaders Smith and Blair supported the Tory Government in war.
Blair's war wasn't easy, in fact it split the party 50/50 in every department but the rot set in (who was the rot here?)

If Labour wants to lose a election, have an internal fight. Simple. It's called democracy.
The Tories couldn't lose, they hated each other but united in war. Kill everyone and anyone.

New Labour may have been an unnecessary interlude but Brown actually did do what he said he would even during the initial phase of the world recession (of which Cameron heaps oceans of blame on Brown).

One day the truth will come out and Mandy's involvement will be analysed more closely and so will the deaths of John Smith and Robin Cook.
Too many labour members looked at each other and shook heads in an uncertain manner.

ejh said...

Given that neither John Rentoul nor Dan Hodges is ever embarrassed by putting forward a bad argument, does it actually matter what either of them says?

Anonymous said...

"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. "

And just as importantly, the Tories were going to get back into power at some point and attempt to undo everything you attempted! Though in reality the Condems are carrying through New Labour policy to its logical conclusion! I think you can look at New Labour as a transition between Thatcher and the ConDems, albeit with certain issues remaining unsolved for the Tories - European 'worker friendly' legislation being but an example.

Phil said...

It does matter, Ejh, because they have a platform that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people read every day. Sadly, I'm a wee bit off commanding that sized audience but it's important counterblasts are out there and available for anyone looking for an alternative view.

Phil said...

Nah, I think there is a break between New Labour and the Tories. Remember, New Labour wasn't just Blair - it was Brown too. And on his watch you saw significant. differences between them and the Tories emerge

ejh said...

It does matter, Ejh, because they have a platform that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people read every day

Yes, but the point is that you're not going to have a dialogue with them. Neal Lawson might be trying to have a dialogue with them, but he's not in a position to come up with an argument that's proof against them saying silly things. Because neither of them have any objection to saying things.

So don't worry about they say. They certainly don't.