Comment: Labour should steer clear of suicide by Blairism

Instead the times call for intelligent and cohesive radicalism


Ed Balls only last week proclaimed his intention to celebrate Labour’s impending victory with a toast from one the party’s now infamous immigration control mugs.

Yet somehow the election was lost, as was Morley and Outwood. My guess is that the champagne bottle stayed corked and the shadow chancellor hit the emergency Scotch instead. Never was hubris so pertinently encapsulated.

As the full scale of the defeat starts to sink in, the left obviously needs to take stock of the situation. Or to put it another way, you know how bad you think things are? They’re far worse than that.

For a start, the setback in Scotland should not be characterised as a bad by-election night, multiplied by 40. This was far, far more than a capricious protest vote by north of the border ingrates destined to come back to their natural home as soon as they see the error of their nationalist-crazeds ways.

Yes, Ed Miliband’s catastrophic mishandling of the Falkirk situation and his decision to work alongside the Conservatives in the Better Together campaign carry much of the blame for this outcome.

But as those who sought to disculpate the late Iosif Dzhugashvili used to put it, our leader was badly advised.

The attitude behind the strange death of Labour Scotland are exemplified by Tony Blair’s potty-mouthed contempt for the ‘unreconstructed wankers’ of the Scottish media.

The profanity – presumably not the sort of taunt our three-time prime minister uses in church or directs towards his clients in Kazakhstan – was intended to deride continued attachment to class politics.

That is now a wider issue. Unreconstructed wankers are now being offered an unprecedented choice of pornography. Thus a substantial section of white working class vote has gone across to UKIP, while much of the bien pensant left has departed to the Greens.

What we are witnessing is what Marxism Today would 30 years ago doubtless have pompously theorised as the splintering of Labour’s constituent bloc of classes.

It is now easy to imagine the Conservatives in power for a generation, given that the current electoral system delivers to the combined right a permanent structural majority in the United Kingdom as a whole, and a fortiori in England and Wales.

The likelihood is that after Miliband’s brief Indian Summer for tepid social democracy, Labour will fall back into the hands of Blairites – many of them also unreconstructed – and lurch sharply towards New New Labourism.

Already there are calls for Labour to adopt a Partito della Rifondazione Blairista strategy. These days that may or may not work in the home counties; I have my doubts. But it will certainly not work in inner London, or Brighton, or the north, or – it hardly needs saying – Scotland.

With no prospect of a centre-left government for some considerable time, extra-parliamentary action, in the broad Bennite sense of the term, must form part of the way forward.

Successful local hospital campaigns give a taster of the local victories that might be possible, and which will do more than anything else to rebuild Labour’s grassroots.

Given the obvious potential for social unrest in a country where in-your-face inequality will become ever more blatant, it will also be important to channel anger in a direction more positive than that of watching the disenfranchised burn down their own communities.

None of this should be accompanied by ultraleftist ‘parliament is irrelevant, change will only come from the streets’ rhetoric.

Elected office incurs legitimacy on those that hold it, and they may have opportunities to exploit the numerous divisions that will arise within the Conservative Party. We need to be savvy enough to take advantage of such possibilities by maximising parliamentary and local government representation.

To that end, Labour needs to come out unequivocally in favour of proportional representation. There is likely to be increasing clamour for it anyway, as the current voting system stands revealed as grotesquely unfair.

It will also – to state the obvious – have to come to terms with the Scottish National Party, whether it likes it or not. But that’s another article.

‘Suicide by cop’ describes what happens when someone deliberately behaves in a threatening manner, with the goal being to provoke a lethal response from a law enforcement officer.

Labour should not opt for the political equivalent, in the shape of suicide by Blairism; the times call for intelligent and cohesive radicalism instead.

David Osland is a London-based journalist and writer

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32 Responses to “Comment: Labour should steer clear of suicide by Blairism”

  1. robertcp

    A return to Blairism would be suicidal for the Labour Party but there does seem to be a large faction of Blairites. It is vital that Labour’s next leader does not move Labour away from being a left of centre party.

  2. Andrew Warner

    The first part of this article is twaddle. This is pretentiousness of the highest order, it imagines that the people of this country can be slotted neatly into a series of Marxist/sociology lecture/theoretical taxonomy. The plain and simple truth of the matter why Labour lost is that it appeared to be against success and responsibility, that is the strategic mistake. On a tactical level allowing the ConDems to run unopposed on the ‘inherited financial mess’ was the biggest mistake in 30 years. Labour didn’t fight back ruthlessly against that all pervasive, pernicious lie and suffered for it. The LP has lost its core base with the working class (what’s left of it), and instead of coming to their aid are seen by the working class as an out of touch metropolitan elite in many parts of the country. Whether you like it or not, Blair, Brown and Mandelson built an election winning machine based on a thorough understanding of the changes in society since Thatcher’s time. The Labour Party of the 70s and 80s should be allowed to rest in peace, the country has changed and the LP should change with it.

  3. Richas

    If we had less people willing to condemn devolution, FOI, Minimum Wage, Tax Credits, saving the NHS from 18month disaster, massively expanding Higher Education so that those of modest means get to go as “tepid social democracy” then no wonder we lost.

    We fail to champion our achievements. Pensioners WERE the most likely age group to live in poverty. WE made them the least likely. we lifted children out of poverty, delivered paternity leave, increased maternity leave, child care, better schools and more HE places and we call it “tepid”. Shoot if I listened to this rot that ignores or denigrates our achievements then I would wonder why to vote Labour.

    Please don’t let the Tory myth that Labour did not deliver go unchallenged, we did but instead of championing that we blame ourselves

  4. Matty

    Mandelson understood society? Mandelson said this to Peter Hain in 1999 “your preoccupation with the working-class vote is wrong. They’ve got nowhere to go”

  5. AlanGiles

    Whoever wins the leadership it should not be Umunna or Hunt – both closely associated with Mandelson. I would say the next leader shoulld be the one who tells Blair and his toadies to “F**k off” publically and sincerely. Only then will Labour be purged of the stench of his cupidity and greed nd can be said to be a party looking for a fresh start. Burnham and Cooper are too ingrained with that past.

  6. AlanGiles

    “The Labour Party of the 70s and 80s should be allowed to rest in peace,
    the country has changed and the LP should change with it.”

    That surely includes the 90s and early 2000s as well then?

  7. DRbilderburg

    The Tories will have a 60+ MP advantage before the first vote is cast in 2020 Rupert Murdoch’s share of the Media will have gone up Look at the names in the ring for the Labour leadership. Jarvis has ruled himself out 1 thing is absolutely guaranteed we’re looking well beyond 2020 for a Labour Government They are merely a support act for the Tories RIP labour RIP libdems

  8. Hawkeye

    Personally, I’d like to see a more left-wing Labour Government. But practically I think it would be absolutely the wrong thing for Labour to do. All the people, the author of this opinion piece among them, calling for the party to move left have absolutely failed to explain how that would have won this election. Let’s look at some facts. Labour didn’t fail to win a majority because it lost Scotland. It didn’t fail to win because any more left-wing party took their vote. It didn’t fail to win because its supporters stayed at home (turnout was marginally up).

    It failed to win because too many people voted Tory. Let that sink in for a moment… the LibDem vote collapsed and… a significant majority of those people voted Tory. A significant number of people who previously voted Labour, voted Tory.

    None of that will get any better under a more left-wing Labour. We can all discuss how we’d like to see the party move more to the left… but we have to choose whether we want a left-wing party outside of any realistic hope of Government, or a more centre-left party with a fighting chance of undoing the damage done by yet more years of a Tory Government. Cheap, dismissive, language about “suicide by Blairism” is simply weakening any constructive points that you might want to make.

  9. Selohesra

    Trouble is you can move to the centre and win votes in England or move to the left and maintain financial support from Unite & the other unions – you can’t do both. Perhaps Labour should now embrace some form of PR. This would allow Labour (and probably Tories) to split into two or more factions without commiting electoral suicide – it would be difficult for Tories to resist if UKIP/Libs/Greens/Labour all pushed for it.

  10. TN

    No because the 90s and early 00s were actually successful for the party.

  11. Lewys Hall

    They sure went somewhere hey. To SNP and UKIP.

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    Away? You’re ignoring the fact they *are* right wing.

    Blair was to the LEFT of modern Labour. For flip sake, look at Reeve’s pronouncements, and one of labour’s six-points for the election was a wage-suppression policy!

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    “Thus a substantial section of white working class vote has gone across to UKIP”

    Still pushing that evidence-free assertion? That says leftists suddenly went hard right?

    Some of the TORY working class vote shifted, yes, along with other Tories. Some elderly people, afraid of the future. And of course the entire far right. Those are UKIP’s bases.

    No, the real killer was the fact that the LibDem Orabge bookers went to the Tories, en-mass. And they were the ones courted by the moves right (plus farcical moves on immigration which impressed nobody), so you lost the non-tribal leftist vote – in England and Wales to (greens and) “not voting”, and in Scotland resoundingly to the SNP!

    The “splintering” is Labour moving right. Party, not people, has changed. Blairism is to the LEFT of modern Labour.

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    Practically, it’d wrong to get voters back?

    The LibDem voters, the Orange Bookers, are *not interested* in Labour. They’ve shown this, dramatically. All you can do is lose more voters moving right trying to appeal to them.

    The rise in turnout benefited, unilaterally, the right. The non-tribal leftist voters in England and Wales DID stay at home.

    You want Labour to remain on 30%, it’s core vote. You are arguing for a right-wing party, as it is today, which does not contest Tory policy on a vast range of issues. Blairism is to the LEFT of modern Labour, who as one of their six main election points put in a wage-suppression policy, while Reeves statements…

  15. Leon Wolfeson

    Keep telling ideologically opposed parties what to do, as you say Labour must not move left even to Blairism…

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    Moving to the centre from where Labour was after Blair inherited it’s big win lost vast numbers of votes over the following elections. Heck, Brown did BETTER than a straight-line projection from the falls Blair presided over indicated! And Labour moved past the center to the right this time, and lost badly because of it.

    But no – there’s no chance that Labour want the PASOK treatment, and won’t go for PR. We’ll need to demand it despite them, not because of them. (The Tories would also split into either two or three parties under PR, likely, of course…)

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    Labour had a choice.

    Either it could go with neoliberal austerity (which demanded what the Tories were doing)- or challenge the Tory narrative. They chose the former, in part because they wanted space from Brown.…Blair inherited a machine from John Smith. He then proceeded to lose many Labour voters over the subsequent elections. This Labour opposition moved right…and lost. Etc.

  18. Leon Wolfeson

    Ah, down on the legacy of John Smith, whose ideas DID lead to Landslide. So unsurprising.

  19. Leon Wolfeson

    No, there’s no evidence that strong leftists suddenly and magically became hard right.

    They sat at home in England and Wales.
    In Scotland, yes, of course they went SNP – that demonstrates further that any myth of a crossover to the UKIP *is* a complete myth!

  20. Cole

    You’ve obviously not been canvassing recently – or ever.

  21. Leon Wolfeson


    Canvassing is not policy analysis.
    Perception is not reality, either.

    Factually, Labour moved sharply right.
    So no, I didn’t canvass for a right wing party.

    You’re claiming that people went from socialism to “The Other is the Problem”, suddenly. Completely contradicting, among other things, the evidence from Scotland that the left voted for the SNP, rather than crossing over to vote for UKIP.

  22. Cole

    The Blairite grandees certainly make a lot of noise in the media. I wonder how many troops they actually have.

  23. robertcp

    Blairites are saying that Labour was too left-wing.

  24. robertcp

    We shall find out in the next few months.

  25. Leon Wolfeson

    Blairites are engaging in propaganda, as usual.
    Really, do I need to explain their tactics?

  26. robertcp

    They want to move Labour further to the right. What else is there to explain?

  27. Leon Wolfeson

    But they don’t, when you actually do policy analysis. Very few of them, for instance, have ANY time for what Reeves has been saying, or the big bullet point about suppressing worker’s wages.

    More stateist and controlling than current Labour, certainly, but that’s not left/right (the Tories are into paternalism in a big way as well!)

  28. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    But moving to the right will not win votes. Why should anyone bother voting for slightly-watered down Thatcherism?

  29. madasafish

    Any article which includes “Already there are calls for Labour to adopt a Partito della Rifondazione Blairista strategy” is pretentious rubbish..

    I have no idea what it means except the author thinks he can impress us with his italian..

    And throwing Marx at us? Totally deluded.

  30. WhiteVanMan

    Suicide by Blairism there was one longest auicide speech I. History that Labour took,it was nothing to do with Blarisim

  31. WhiteVanMan

    The suicide quote went back to labour deciding in 1979 to swing to the left for the 83 election, whatever blairism, labour never lost with him,even if the 2005 election was on a low turnout, there’s no proof that swinging to the left would see labour gain support.

  32. Lewys Hall

    I think you’d find that many voters who hold some progressive beliefs voted UKIP as a protest vote. It’s strange yes as UKIP is a right wing party but it is also a recepticle of those disillusioned with the main parties.

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