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

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.

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