Friday, April 20, 2007


Lets not be too Unfair to Poor old Tony Blair

God knows, I share with many other party members a deep disillusion with Blair. I have also been impressed, in the past, with the articles of Neal Lawson, Chair of the left of centre Compass and the source of much innovative Labour alternative thinking. But his article yesterday posed a problem. Whilst it offered some genuine critical arguments, I thought it seriously over-egged the negative narrative of his ten years in power.

I thought Lawson justified in suggesting that the capture of middle class votes in 1997 had a negative effect on Labour's reforming zeal. Blair seemed-excuse the pun- to be too intent on keeping them in the tent. It was a political fact that with a shrinking working class constituency, Labour had to appeal to a fair slice of the middle class to win and maintain power. But this was only achieved at a price paid in abandoned Labour principles close to the hear of Labour members.

However, it seems absurd to assert that:

'The Blairites started off thinking progressive politics weren't feasible and have ended up believing they are undesirable....the man who refused to join the SDP ends up to the right of Heath, let alone Macmillan and Eden'

It all depends what one defines as 'progressive' but to exclude from its definition the minimum wage, many billions poured into health and education and a very considerable redistribution of wealth via Brown's annual budgets, seems to reflect a determination not to allow the man any achievements at all. Iraq has been an appalling error which should have caused his resignation- that it did not is the responsibility of the Parliamentary Labour Party- but we should not, on the cusp of his departure deny Blair a fair assessment of what he has managed to do in the name of progressive politics. Crude Blair bashing sometimes seems more insistent on the left than on the right and with as little justification.

But one point Lawson makes which is undeniable is that:

'The party is again on its knees, only this time the Tories don't look ready to implode. The nation no longer listens to Labour. The party's traditional base has been ignored and has crumbled.

The question here is: how much has this decline the result of the the inevitable vicissitudes of ten years in power and how much the consequence of Blair's alleged 'triangulation' of Labour policies with Conservative ones? As the man bows out I think the fairest judgement lies closer to the former than the latter.

The key missing ingredient in Lawson's analysis is how he thinks Brown will bring things back round. He talks the talk ... but will Compass walk the walk? Will they back McDonnell to make sure their own anti-war and anti-marketisation memes are spread around a bit? Or their own mid-left candidate (centre left is a bit problematic as Blair and Brown claim that)? Or just suck up to Brown and hope their ranks include some star SpAds and appointees under a GB regime?
Quite agree Skipper. I'm working on a series of posts for my blog on my whole political outlook, why it is as it is, how it formed etc. I've long debated with a friend whether I'm better placed on the reforming right of Labour or the one-nation left of the Tories (and I felt this dichotomy long before Cameron arrived!)

When Blair speaks I find him very appealing and he makes me question my own views. When Lawson talks about his aspirations for Labour I get very worried....
skipper - I share your analysis of Lawson's article. What frustrates and annoys me is that he appears to believe that Labour under Blair - or Gordon Brown - lacks a radical vision for the nation's future and he virtually accuses Blair of having achieved nothing because he hasn't tackled everything. Britain has got better since 1997, Blair and Brown have had their successes (and failures) - it is simply disingenuous of Neal not to admit as much in his articl

I have written a response to his article piece for the Guardian's CiF website - use the link below.
I've now read your article and it's a well argued detailed rebuttal of Lawson who, I think, was just indulging a desire to bash Blair.

Thank you - comin from you that is high praise indeed. From the comments section you will note that not everyone shares your view!
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