Labour and a rejection of the tedious assumptions of Blairism

Tony Blair

The defence of Blairism by Anne McElvoy (Britain’s new generation of populists fail the Blair test, 31 December) was a timely reminder of the now very tired and tedious assumptions made by political commentators of her kind over the previous 20 years.

One of the worst is her assertion that “business in Britain” is regarded by Labour as “little more than the setting for perfidious economic crimes”. This theme, that somehow Labour is anti-business, will, I suspect, be a major line of Tory attack in the coming months. The most effective response will be to point out that it is not anti-business to be against corruption, profiteering, exploitation of vulnerable workers, tax avoidance on an industrial scale and those corporate forces that aim to undermine the whole democratic process, all of which have been catalogued day by day by our financial media.

For those with Ms McElvoy’s mindset, however, these would, no doubt, be dismissed as “a few rotten apples” and the fundamental tenet that private business and the market rule supreme and must never be challenged will remain sacrosanct. Ed Miliband should take heart. If his tentative first steps into questioning the nature of current society have ruffled the feathers of Tony Blair and Ms McElvoy, he’s on to something.
Ted Woodgate
Billericay, Essex

• In her latest depressing rallying call to vote Labour (2015 will be a year of political thrills – and colossal dangers, 30 December), Polly Toynbee argues that this is essential under our “broken” electoral system in order to prevent “irreversible damage” under a Tory government and claims that, if Labour wins, “Cameron’s dangerous alternative will be forgotten.”

Surely the revelation of Thatcher’s ideas for removing schools from local authority control and the progressing of these plans under Cameron illustrates that the Tories will never forget their plans. What Toynbee seems to forget is the experience of the last Labour government, and the state of the Labour party today, in which any leftist alternative has been silenced.

The last Labour government, if it had tried, could have reversed many of Thatcher’s policies. Instead, it extended some of them. Judging by Labour’s declared intentions, we can confidently expect the same under Miliband – more austerity, more attacks on immigrants, more support for big business and multinational corporations, more ignoring the urgency of tackling climate change.

Changing the direction of travel won’t come without popular political action outside the Westminster bubble, but voting can help if people stop voting for a party with policies that will make things worse. Those are the wasted votes. Voting for the Green party or other candidates that oppose these attacks is unlikely to get them elected, but it’s our chance to show opposition, and the bigger that opposition, the better for our future.
Peter Whitworth
Surbiton, Surrey

• With polls indicating an SNP whitewash destroying the “new” Labour party presence in Scotland, the Guardian responds by saying: “few could have predicted, or did predict…” (Editorial, 27 December). Actually, many people did predict this meltdown. When Labour was taken over by a privileged elite with an entirely alien ideology, it was inevitable that a social base unable to get genuine democratic representation would attempt to reconstitute itself elsewhere. It’s a tragedy that there still is a real Labour social base that is now permanently dispersed – into the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, Left Unity, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and even some lost souls into Ukip – because it has no genuine Labour candidates for whom to vote.

The real question is why news outlets such as the Guardian did not criticise the entryist neoliberal coup d’état in the way they scrutinised Militant. The last Labour cabinet included two brothers and a married couple. Positions have since been found for the children of Kinnock, Prescott and Straw. Anyone who would have cared about these undemocratic stitch-ups has already left. Do they think parachuting Blairite Jim Murphy into the Scottish leadership position will help?
Gavin Lewis
Manchester

• Ed Balls says a future Labour government would “get the deficit down in a tough and balanced way” (George Osborne is at the margins – Labour is the centre ground, 2 January). Here in Haringey a Labour council has just announced plans to cut its budget by £74m over the next three years by measures that are tough mostly on people, such as my son, with severe learning disabilities and autism, and others with dementia and other complex needs (who will bear more than 40% of the proposed cuts). If Labour is so obsessed with balancing on the centre ground that it is incapable of standing up for the needs of the most vulnerable groups in society, what is the point of electing it, either nationally or locally?
Mary Langan
London

• With radical groups such as Syriza and Podemos poised for electoral success in mainland Europe, Tony Blair has appeared to warn the Labour party against being “too leftwing” (Blair doubts Labour will win next election, 31 January). Insisting “I am convinced the Labour party succeeds best when it’s in the centre ground,” he calls for “moderation”. To make his argument work, Blair is forced to overlook the achievements of Clement Attlee’s well-known “moderate” post-1945 government, which nationalised the commanding heights of the economy and built the welfare state and the NHS.

If the Labour party fails in May’s general election, it will be because it is not leftwing enough and will peddle a watered-down version of Tory austerity, rather than an alternative to it. Blair should go back to doing what he does best – making Blair richer.
Sasha Simic
London

• Blair owes everything he has to the Labour party. If he cannot bear to endorse Ed Miliband, because Ed’s success would show there was an alternative to the “third way” or whatever passed for policy under Blair, can’t he just keep his mouth shut? Whatever Neil Kinnock’s qualms might have been about the way Blair handled things, he would never have been so disloyal to the movement he loves. Blair, on the other hand, seems only ever to have seen the Labour party as a means to an end.
Margaret Squires
St Andrews, Fife

• Many political commentators have never understood that Ed Miliband’s election as leader of the Labour party was driven by a rejection of New Labour, of which his brother David was very much part. Labour would certainly not have won in 2010 under Blair and, I suspect, would have lost even more seats.
John Boaler
Calne, Wiltshire

• No solutions to the UK’s problems can be free from ideology, a set of beliefs that identifies what solutions might work. Blair’s genius was in presenting his chosen policies as a “middle way” of supposedly non-ideological, practical solutions, including support for the US in Iraq, or introducing PFI into the NHS. Nowadays, when someone talks about commonsense solutions, will we be wiser?
Gill Westcott
Exeter

• Thank you, Mr Blair. You have made it 100% certain that my vote will go to Ed Miliband. I hope your prediction has nothing to do with the proposed mansion tax.
Phil Jones
Eastington, Gloucestershire

• At last (Labour MP rails against leader’s ‘Hampstead’ politics, 24 December). Labour should find 20 more working-class MPs like Simon Danczuk and reduce the number of those recruited because they are “sycophants who cut their teeth as special advisers”, usually drawn from Oxbridge, it should be added. If so, I will return to campaigning for the party.
Bob Holman
Glasgow

• Tony Blair’s grasp of labour history was always poor – one suspected deliberately so – and seems to have grown worse since he left office. He may think that a traditional rightwing party will always beat a traditional leftwing one in an election, but that does rather raise the question of how Labour won the elections of 1945, 1950, 1964, 1966 and 1974 (twice).
Keith Flett
London

• Neal Lawson criticises Tony Blair (Dear Tony Blair, maybe it’s your fault if the electorate hasn’t shifted to the left, theguardian.com, 1 January): “You were only concerned about winning, not about reshaping society, so who are you to say Ed Miliband is too leftwing?”

Three responses (from me, not Blair):

First, the prime purpose of the Labour party is to continue in its existence (reshaping society is a bonus): “Its purpose is to organise and maintain in parliament and in the country a political Labour party” (clause 1, name and party).

Second, New Labour’s 1997 manifesto specifically declared a programme for a “new centre and centre-left politics”. The draft was supported by 95% of the membership; the rolling programme was endorsed three times by a comfortable majority of the national electorate.

Third, Ed Miliband was subsequently elected as leader on a platform that was distinctly to the left of New Labour.

So that’s where we were, and this is where we are now.

Remember, though, whatever the shortcomings of the New Labour project, it was undoubtedly one of absolute clarity, and one of total determination in delivery (the 10 key pledges were all well delivered).

Of course, no one doubts that the political centre of gravity can change. But, as with New Labour, Ed Miliband’s Labour must also demonstrate a clarity that is not only ideologically unequivocal but also specific and measurable in its practical aims.

As I am sure Neal Lawson would agree, a party that is quick to rubbish its own recent past achievements needs to be supremely confident about its present ability to predict and react to the challenges of the future.
Mike Allott
Eastleigh, Hampshire

• Anne McElvoy’s analysis of Labour is wholly enlightening, and a simple analogy may make things even clearer. Politics can perhaps best be understood in geological terms: there must be a firm foundation for what one might have to call the philosophy of a party. Above this are strata of elements, which may be mined or discarded as long as the core foundation remains firm. At the surface, or the ground or vegetation level, arrangements may be made to appeal on a temporary basis – pretty flowers, garden gnomes or juicy strawberries – as long as these are not mistaken for the necessary strong and supportive rocks below. If this bedrock is destroyed, the pretty fauna and the mined temporary materials will also start to slide and collapse. This can take time, but it is certain to occur. It remains to be seen whether or not New Labour was an ephemeral horticultural indulgence or if its gardeners – the Blair testers – accidentally toppled the whole geological entity. Let’s hope not.
Ian Flintoff
Oxford

• Why should anyone take any notice of Tony Blair? He was wrong about the euro and wrong about Iraq. He would have taken the NHS and other public services further in the direction of uncoordinated profit-seeking competition. He has shown no real concern about inequality, and still instinctively believes in discredited “trickle-down” capitalism. He has learnt nothing since the 2008 collapse, which destroyed not only a huge amount of wealth but also the foundations of free-market economics. New Labour is contrary to all that Labour has stood for since 1945, and offers no real difference from rational Conservatism. I believe the majority of the electorate knows this and has moved on – if not decisively this time, it certainly will after the next market meltdown.
Alan Bailey
London

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