Oh, Shut Up, Blair.
May 10, 2015
by Martin Odoni
A former Labour leader, now widely recognised as one of the most dangerous sociopaths ever to occupy 10 Downing Street, has publically decided that his party’s defeat in Thursday’s General Election is because Ed Miliband dragged his policy platform too far to the left. “RECLAIM THE CENTRE GROUND!” cries Tony Blair, milking his ‘I-told-you-so!’ moment for all it is worth.
There is a gaping hole in Blair’s remarks. Ed Miliband was already in the centre ground with his manifesto. It was certainly to the left of the very neoliberal ground that Blair occupied while in office from 1997 to 2007, but to suggest Miliband was being too radically left-of-centre with his policies only highlights how worryingly narrow the range-of-thought in mainstream British political/economic public discourse has become.
Miliband’s policies were the bare minimum of what was needed just to get the country away from the right wing, and any people who argue that he was being more daring than that need to answer the following questions; –
When did Miliband pledge to re-nationalise British core industries such as the Royal Mail, the railways, steel manufacturing, British Telecom, and energy-production?
When did Miliband pledge to take away independence from the Bank Of England?
When did Miliband pledge to expand the welfare state?
When did Miliband pledge to reverse the anti-Trade Union reforms the Margaret Thatcher Government introduced in the 1980’s?
When did Miliband pledge to raise the taxes for the highest earners to sixty per cent or more?
When did Miliband pledge to restore Clause IV, or submit his party’s manifesto for mandatory approval by Trade Union leaders?
(I am not necessarily saying I would agree with all of the above policies had Labour campaigned for them, by the way, I am merely pointing out that they are essential features of any genuinely leftist platform in the United Kingdom, and Miliband signed up to none of them.) The fact that Blair thinks that the ‘watered-down Austerity’ that Miliband campaigned for is left-of-centre tells us a lot about how the ideas of the real left have become virtually unthinkable in a world where the discourse is dominated by right-wing hysteria. To the extent, that is, that even a former leader of the UK Labour Party is unable to let them register with him. Merely ‘not-wanting-a-totally-deregulated-free-market’ is now enough for Tony Blair to wag a forefinger and say, “Careful, we’re being too left-wing!” With anything to the left of the real centre of the political spectrum being inadmissible in Blair’s thoughts at all, his very narrow spectrum therefore assumes that the ground of the 1960’s Tory Party is effectively socialism.
As for Blair’s insistence that taking a more ‘centrist’ platform (read: the centre-right ground of Ted Heath’s Conservative Party) is the way ahead for Labour, he does not appear to have let the finer details of the Election result register with him either. For not only were Miliband’s Labour already on that ground, but so, for the most part, were the Liberal Democrats, and look what happened to them. They went to the polls with over fifty seats, and came out the other end in single digits, losing such major party stalwarts as Simon Hughes, Danny Alexander and Vince Cable along the way.
It must be noted that there are specific, non-political-spectrum, reasons for that, not least that the LibDems betrayed their core voting-base while in the Coalition. But even so, the losses both Labour and the LibDems suffered still show that what Blair tenuously refers to as ‘the centre ground’ holds no appeal – certainly not enough appeal to redeem past indiscretions. Instead, Blair’s favourite turf has been completely carpet-bombed by an electorate that is clearly fed up of the sell-out by former centrist and leftist parties to neoliberal politics. And Blair’s solution is to demand that Labour sell out to neoliberal politics again?
Blair should just be quiet. His inability to grasp reality was often disturbing when in power, especially his tendency, echoed today by Iain Duncan-Smith, of thinking that he could make any assumption into a fact by simply declaring that he firmly believed it. “Iraq will be a free, happy, democratic and peaceful country if we bomb the bollocks out of it! I may be wrong about that, but it’s what I believe!” His calculation now is just more of the same confirmation bias, another attempt to endorse his own decision to drag Labour to the right in the 1990’s. He still thinks that was what won him the Elections in 1997 and 2001, but in truth, both results were more the public voting against the Tories than for ‘New Labour’.
Similarly now, I do not believe that thirty-seven per cent of the voters actually like or want Tory Government, they are just terrified of a repeat of the Credit Crunch of 2008, still buy into the false narrative that the Government of Gordon Brown was to blame for it, and therefore are scared to put their trust in the Labour Party again.
The first and most important action the Labour Party must take to rebuild their chances of getting into Government again is therefore not so much a matter of placement on the political spectrum, but to combat and finally dispel once and for all the pervasive myths of the financial disaster of 2008. They made a dreadful running mistake throughout the Coalition Parliament of keeping quiet about what really happened, and of letting the Tories just proliferate cynical lies, to the point that most in the public have completely the wrong idea of what caused the Credit Crunch. In truth, the only role Labour played in creating the crisis was de-regulating the British banking industry too far. A mistake certainly, but not the decisive role.
Labour need finally to make clear that banks abused the excessive freedom they had been given and offered unsuitable loans to customers who never had a hope of paying it all back, and the principle blame for the 2008 financial crisis therefore lies with the banks, not with the then-Government. Labour also need to make clear that, had the Tories been in power through the 2000’s, they would have de-regulated the banking sector even more extremely. Labour need to make clear that even if the de-regulation in Britain had not occurred, there was still likely to be a serious recession of some kind around 2007-2009 due to the same financial disaster occurring around most of the rest of the world, especially in the Derivatives Market in the USA. Labour need to make clear that the surge in the Public Sector Debt (which is not nearly as big an issue as the British Right make it out to be anyway) was absolutely not a result of ‘excessive public spending on welfare’, but was a result of Gordon Brown’s decision to bail out the banking sector – a decision he really should not have made, but again, had the Tories been in power, they would have done it as well. Labour need to make clear that the country never went bankrupt, was never on the brink of going bankrupt, and never will go bankrupt, making Austerity not only brutally unpleasant, but actually counter-productive and pointless. Labour would also do themselves a bit of good by pointing out frequently and consistently that the package of fiscal stimulus measures by then-Chancellor Of The Exchequer Alistair Darling early in 2010 had ended the recession and got the economy growing again – a stimulus package the Tories actually opposed, and then cancelled as soon as they got into power, dooming the country to three needless years of ongoing recession.
In short, the Labour Party needs to make clear at last that the big crisis of Brown’s tenure at Number 10 would also have happened, and more severely, had the Tories been in power at the time instead. If enough of the public can be convinced of that, the main obstacle to the Labour Party making a serious bid for power can be hurdled. Furthermore, having achieved that, they would be mad to move towards the right once more, as at that point, they will have convinced everyone of Tory incompetence – therefore, the last thing they would want is to resemble the Tories, so why move in a Tory direction?