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Sunday 30 August 2015

Tony Blair’s Labour Problem

Today brings another intervention in the Labour leadership contest from the sainted Tone, this time in the Guardian’s Sunday stablemate The Observer. “There is a new phenomenon in politics or perhaps the revival of an old one. But whatever it is, it is powerful. Someone said to me the other day re Corbyn mania: ‘You just don’t get it.’ I confess they’re right. I don’t get it, but I’m trying hard” he admitted.
Blair admits “people like me come forward and say elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader and it will be an electoral disaster, his enthusiastic new supporters roll their eyes. Neil Kinnock, Gordon Brown and I have collectively around 150 years of Labour party membership. We’re very different. We disagree on certain things. But on this we’re agreed. Anyone listening? Nope. In fact, the opposite. It actually makes them more likely to support him”.

The problem for Blair, though, is not about his three election victories, nor his years of service to the Labour Party. Why so many members are immune to his blandishments comes down to a few very straightforward words, and these can be summarised directly: Iraq, trust, authoritarianism, relationships, abandonment, and dishonesty. These are the words that stop so many in Labour listening to Tony Blair.

Let’s consider briefly how it was all so different in 1997: the Tories’ reputation for economic competence had been shot through by Black Wednesday and the ejection of Sterling from the ERM. The catalogue of sleaze followed. Labour was returned to power in a landslide greater even than that achieved in 1945. Most of the ground gained was retained four years later against a feeble challenge from William ‘Ague.

But Iraq eroded much of that support and sowed the seeds of unease among Labour members - and voters. That unease only intensified as the aftermath of the invasion was botched and the situation in that country became, if anything, worse than it had been under the Ba’athist régime. That the electorate might have been misled about intelligence and the war’s legitimacy only made things worse.

Blair’s authoritarian streak has, equally, not gone down well with Labour members. He tried and failed to keep Ken Livingstone and Rhodri Morgan off the candidates’ list for offices that they then went on to serve in successfully. The attempt to lock up terror suspects for longer and longer periods caused yet more unease. And then there have been the revelations about how close he was to Rupert Murdoch.

On top of that is the sense of distance and abandonment, that Blair has left the scene to make his fortune and perform not totally successfully as a Middle East envoy - hence the perception of him more of an outsider by his own party faithful. Yes, he is well regarded among potential swing voters, but they are not part of the Labour leadership electorate.

So Blair may be totally right, but Labour members and supporters will inevitably view his intervention through the prism of the recent past. And he can do nothing about that.


Robin said...

This is all fair analysis, but is also an example of the left's popular conflation of Blair's excellent political savvy with his less desirable leadership style and questionable personal values. To denigrate his assessment of Corbyn's electability in this way is, at least in intellectual terms, an ad hominem fallacy.

If Corbyn is elected as Labour leader, only time will tell if Blair is wrong. But in the post-SNP-rise era it would seem to me a collective decision to take an enormous risk that he'll be a game changer of a more-or-less unprecedented degree in modern times. Lest we're happy with the Tories till 2025 that's a sobering risk to take.

Anonymous said...

He might appeal to those that have not voted before or in a long time, rather than pandering to the wavering Tory and Liberal voters. He he could get many of the non-voters to vote for him, then it don't matter about the central ground.

A labour party that abstained from the welfare vote, is not one I am going to vote for, Corbyn I will.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, Blair ISN'T right. He's wrong, not to say a wrong 'un of the worst kind, a political traitor without principles or loyalty, a war criminal and a tenth rate establishment stooge. That's why he's hated.

As for: "Neil Kinnock, Gordon Brown and I have collectively around 150 years of Labour party membership."......Yeah, right. Did a bang-up job didn't you - lied us into an illegal war that killed hundreds of thousands of innocents, destroyed countries, created millions of helpless refugees, lined up behind Yank Nazis, impoverished millions in this country, increased divisions in the country, lost Scotland, privatised community assets, did nothing about millions of unemployed, handed over school building to profiteering PFI crooks, ignored corruption in Canary Wharf, Westminster and Whitehall and generally turned out to be a liar you wouldn't want anywhere near your kids.

And that's why people rightly hate New Labour, the creation of those with "150 years of Labour Party leadership," those who had no conscience, genuine leadership qualities or principles.

That's why Jeremy Corbyn stands a very good chance of kicking that gang of corrupt conmen and women into the dustbin of history along with the tories and their media apologists.

David Lindsay said...

The Conservative Party has a Leader who cast his first vote in 1987. But is he a barrow boy made good? Not exactly, no. Moreover, he is to be succeeded in this Parliament by a man who could not vote until Margaret Thatcher had left office, and who is the son and heir of a 17th Baronet.

Meanwhile, eight years after Tony Blair's departure, Labour is to be led by a man who was first elected to Parliament on the same day as Blair, and Gordon Brown, were, but who is slightly older even than they, and who voted against their Governments 500 times.

He believes that Blair ought to stand trial for war crimes. His campaign has no organisation beyond the trade unions and the networks of Left activists who are by no means all within the Labour Party, something that also applies to the unions. He has been endorsed by no national newspaper apart from the Morning Star.

So much for Margaret Thatcher. So much for Tony Blair. So much for the people who voted for certain parties purely because they favoured either or both of Thatcher and Blair. So much for the newspapers that endorsed them both. And so much for the proprietor of those newspapers.

Shawlrat said...

Tone fails to realise he's yesterday's man. Sad really.
I have voted in the leadership election. I made my own mind up without the benefit of Tone's advice. I can think for myself.
For the record I did not vote Corbyn, not because I don't agree with a great deal of what he says, but because I'm looking for a leader who can take Dave on at his own game and someone who can bring all sections of the party together.

Fishman Dave said...


Don't you think that many of us and the general electorate have had enough of "a leader who can take Dave on at his own game"? We want someone who can offer something different.

After all, why would anyone vote for a leader who was offering a slightly different shade of conservatism? We've already got the tory party to do that, so why not vote for the experts?

Anonymous said...

I didn't vote Labour in the last election, and I didn't pay £3 to have a say in this. But I'm really looking forward to Corbyn doing far better than anyone expects. I think he'll be unearthing a huge number of previously disaffected voters. I hope it will be a shock for the Labour MPs and Labour Party faithful and narcissistic self-styled socialists when they realise how they've been ignoring the people they genuinely, but mistakenly, think they've been representing all these years.
Tony did, in his long-ago past, make the Labour Party electable by taking it to the right and by abandoning the core voters who'd stopped voting for the old cronies and were even less likely to vote for champagne socialists. And there's all you need to know about why Corbyn's different.