Saturday 28 May 2016

Dear Tony

Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony. When I was a Trot I had it drilled into me that you don't necessarily speak for yourself. You always have to think about how your conduct and the positions you're arguing might reflect on your comrades. This sense of political self-responsibility, I think, is something of a virtue and my many, many blogs (I hope) abide by this rule. When finger tips touch the keyboard, there is a sense of trying to say something that others might find helpful. Political argument, after all, is about arguing with purpose. With that in mind, what were you trying to achieve with your recent comments?

As you were once so fond of saying, I get it. Jeremy Corbyn isn't the man for you. You believe his route isn't the path to power, and that a government with the kinds of policies he favours would be a "dangerous experiment". There are two points worth making here. First, a bit of humility would be in order. Your tenure saw you undertake a reckless experiment with the Middle East. Despite repeated warnings at the time, you ploughed ahead with your friend George W Bush - who at least has the good grace to keep his mouth shut - and helped set in train a series of events that led to the formation of Islamic State. Even without that unhappy consequence, an Iraq riven with sectarian tensions and regular suicide bombings is your legacy, and you deserve to be dogged by it until the end of your days. Whatever may happen should Jeremy Corbyn make it to Number 10, he is most unlikely to leave it with the deaths of at least 250,000 people searing his conscience.

The second point is a matter of the burden of proof. How would a Jez-led Labour government be "dangerous"? It's not enough to boldly advance a position, you need to back it with solid argument. Where is the danger when all wings of the party are pretty united on matters of economic policy. The leadership believe the state should take an activist role vis a vis the economy, a position shared by even Peter Mandelson. On public services and social security, the leadership is committed to no more cuts - a policy that has (in words at least) been adopted by the Tories. It wants to see more houses built, a life-long education service introduced, the removal of the market from the NHS and its integration with adult social care, a devolution of powers to local authorities, an increased minimum wage. I've looked among these pretty mainstream Labourist aspirations, and can't see where danger threatens. Are we instead talking about foreign policy and military spending? On the European Union Jeremy has swallowed his well-known scepticism and has made a strong case for staying in. Is that going to change in a government led by him? Absolutely not. How about withdrawing from NATO? Again, most unlikely. And Trident? As a member of NATO Britain would remain under the US nuclear umbrella, a point Nicola Sturgeon hammered home for Scotland time and again whenever it raised its head in the independence referendum. And is scrapping Trident necessarily that insane considering the military brass themselves are divided on the merits of its renewal?

Come on Tony, you might as well say it. By setting your face against this policy agenda, you're setting your face against a mild social democratic programme. That doesn't affect you, of course. There's nothing you can say and do to win those over appalled at your behaviour during the Iraq crisis, and your downright disgusting activities spinning for Nursultan Nazarbayev, the dictator of Kazakhstan, since leaving office. Yet you are oblivious to the whirlwind your remaining friends in the party reap every time you open your trap. Your chums in Progress are too polite (and star struck) to tell you to can it, but every time you say something you make their project that little bit more difficult.

Perhaps your arguments would be better received if they articulated something, but they do not. For instance, you say that the centre ground needs to get its mojo back. What does this vapid nonsense even mean? The "centre ground" isn't some independent political force. You always previously understood it as a zone where the policy and value preferences of the majority of nice middle Englanders in nice middle class swing seats were located, and your strength lay in your appeal to those yearnings and prejudices. Secondly, the centre ground just doesn't exist. Even if we define it in terms of where the majority of views are clustered on a given set of issues, what is left is an almighty mess. For instance, according to Jon Cruddas's latest iteration of his working class conservatism hobby horse, most people believe the economy is skewed towards the interests of a powerful elite. Yet the same research (which isn't without its problems) also says austerity was "popular" and the reason we didn't win the election. Where's the centre ground here? The blessed Ed tried, oh he tried. On every issue, our policies had a go occupying the centre ground by pitching in terrain equidistant from an old school Labour position and that of the Tories. This was a recipe for incoherence when clarity was needed. And for following your playbook, you weirdly castigated Labour for being "too left-wing". There is also the small matter of politics shifting and new realities coming into play. When the situation is one where the main parties of the centre left and centre right are eroding as their natural constituencies are dispersing, the view that the beloved triangulation of old, which depended on taking core votes for granted is a go-er is a recipe, frankly, of accelerating that process.

It's no secret that I've never rated you as a strategic thinker, a figure of substance, or even a politician who can do the professional politician things. Winning three elections against hapless opponents isn't genius; it's good fortune. You had an opportunity after the premature passing of John Smith, and you took it. Yet you remain a creature of that moment. Now, politics is a lot less certain than it was when you ruled the roost, every time you pronounce on this or criticise that you show yourself up as a man out of your time. I know you can't help yourself, but those old times are never coming back. Even if the Labour centre or the Labour right win back the leadership, the times they have a-changed and it's up to the party to deal with things as they are now, not how you perceived them to be 19 years ago.


Steven said...

I think one of the biggest ways in which he's dismantled his legacy is by refining what we understood Blairite to mean since leaving office. Which is to say, triangulation has moved from being his signature move to any deviation from the centre-right playbook being a mortal sin.

In 2015 Liz was apparently the Blairite but she failed to triangulate - Cooper and Burnham had weak personal brands and launched their campaigns by seeming to want to focus on the right flank, not their left. This turned out to be an opportunity for Corbyn, but it could have worked for Liz too - had she, for instance, expressed a position on immigration more akin to New Labour's record. Instead we got migrants scrambling on lorries and regurgitated Daily Mail soundbites. She could have built a coherent, liberal, platform and won over the members who backed David years before. But the thought didn't seem to cross her mind.

I went from being interested in her candidacy (and was initially minded to back her over Cooper or Burnham) to voting Corbyn. It was precisely her comments, and the suggestion that Blairites really had forgot how the game worked, that made me think the reset button Corbyn represented might work.

So far, it's paying off. I'm glad that MPs like Cat Smith and Clive Lewis are getting an opportunity to perform. Preferable to Wes Streeting, certainly. Whenever I feel frustrated by the current leadership I remember that.

Drew said...

Or could the real reason be :-
According to a Labour spokesperson, Corbyn will stand by comments he made during the party’s leadership contest last year that the Iraq war was illegal and all those who committed a crime should be put on trial.

“If [Tony Blair has] committed a war crime, yes. Everyone who's committed a war crime should be [charged],” Corbyn said.

“I think it was an illegal war, I'm confident about that, indeed Kofi Annan confirmed it was an illegal war, and therefore he has to explain to that,” he added.

Robert said...

Chilcott is finally coming out let's hope it's not a whitewash.

Gary Elsby said...

Tony's case for remaining in the EU slaughtered everything so far.
The guy certainly has a good way of communicating.
The over-riding message coming over about Labour is that it is half-hearted on the EU and half the members don't know what the Labour message is.

Unknown said...

Membership or not of the EU appears to have a cross party character anyway and I don't think neither Cameron nor Corbyn could hope to come out of it looking great . On the one side there is the real problem of EU mismanagement (though our own tendency to elect Euro-sceptics to represent us there has not helped with shaping a better EU) and on the other we have pie in the sky land of milk and honey predictions, so it's a boring hard sell for both parties to advocate more of the same and difficult to disprove the dreamers without bursting a few balloons ie all these glum economic forecasts should we leave. Neither Cameron nor Corbyn wanted this referendum and I am sure that the one would rather like to get on with the usual dismantling of the welfare state while the other would like to get on with stopping that happening. Stopping the Tories involves unity going forwards but I don't think we will see that until after the EU fiasco is out of the way.

Unknown said...

Apparently he didn't need me anyway as the floating voters with few beliefs blatantly put Tony Blair into power. I consider myself a core Labour voter but I did not vote for anyone for the whole time Blair was in charge. To me he was, is still and always will be a Tory who started playing for the other side for reasons of aspirations of personal messianic powers. Looks like Labour needs my vote now though and with Jeremy Corbyn at the helm, they are likely to get it. I am sick of British politicians who seem vacuous and wavering on moral issues and live to serve the elite and wealthy with the myth of trickle down economics. There is no such thing as trickle down economics; all there ever is is trickle up, where wealthy people get even wealthier by committing tax fraud on the nation . We live in neo feudal times or same as it ever was in other words; it is precisely now when we need a strong socialist voice in British politics. Any move back to the bad old days of war criminal Blair or his policies then Labour has lost me and I will vote Green this time.