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Labour's 50 Shades of Red and Blair's Vanilla

Posted: 12/07/2012 12:14

I suppose the measure of any successful writer is to spark a reaction.

To that end, I found myself muttering at my iPhone as I read Mehdi Hasan's polemic against Blair's return.

I tweeted I'd like to Fisk his article but realised I had a life. He was kind enough to offer me the right to reply so here goes.

Mehdi is a cold war warrior of the Blairite/Brownite struggles. From 1994 to 2007 and beyond by proxies, the media defined Labour by this eternal struggle between neo-liberalism and 'real Labour.' It made careers, it secured book deals, but it was built on a fundamental misconception - that Tony and Gordon were politically different. They weren't.

So why is the reappearance of three-time election winning Tony Blair to Labour politics treated with such disdain by some on the left?

Firstly, the Labour Party is a broad church. - Progress, Campaign, Compass, Blue Labour, In the Black Labour and so on. The party really is 50 shades of red, with some on the more extreme side still fascinated with electoral masochism.

Tony was always very vanilla. The public liked him because he understood them. His real mantra in 1997 should have been aspiration, aspiration, aspiration.

That ability to listen to the public's concerns and draft a manifesto to meet them, led him to being a repeated electoral success and now the ideal person to input into Labour's new policy review with former No 10 colleague Jon Cruddas.

But in the eyes of many dinner party activists, that aim to appeal to the many and not the few meant he was a bit of a sell-out.

But if you step out of North London to areas Labour snatched from the Tories in 1997 such as Weaver Vale, Chester and Cleethorpes, you'll find the warmth from the people Blair won over is still strong.

So for Mehdi to quote the "anti-war left" and the "Daily Mail reading right" forming a mass unholy alliance of hate is a bit sweeping. In fact, Blair still polls as the third most popular post-war PM after Thatcher and Churchill.

For Ed Miliband to share a stage with Tony and to invite him to be a policy advisor on the Olympics legacy shows how confident he has become as leader. Ed is his own man - defined neither by his brother nor by his predecessors. He has nothing to fear from Blair and everything to gain.

That's because the one huge weakness of the coalition is its lack of strategy - outside blaming the previous administration for every malady known to man.

But Tony was obsessed - and to my mind still is - with being strategic. Every time he returned from holiday he brought back a handwritten strategy on how his government should develop over the next few months.

Compare that to the tactical approach taken by Cameron. It works up to a point when you were getting good coverage but in the bad times it looks like you're trying to govern by headlines.

Blair's strategic input and experience will be a huge political asset to Ed and the party. Also a hugely important financial once - hence the fundraiser at the Emirates. Name any other politician who could command £500 a ticket.

As to 'myths and legends' of Blair winning elections, Mehdi said Tony inherited a 13% lead in 1994, extended it 29% but only won by just under 13%.

The only poll that matters is election day with mid term anti-government polls always going to be high and those leads are inflated because there rarely is an election tomorrow. That's why in spite of averaging 22% leads in 1990 we didn't get Prime Minister Kinnock.

The four million lost votes between 1997 and 2005 is also easily explained. Turnout dropped in 2001 because they felt Labour would walk it again. People were broadly satisfied so some didn't bother to turn out to vote.

So between 1997 and 2001 alone the party saw 2.8 million votes disappear but Blair lost only five out of 418 seats and just 2.5% from his 1997 vote share. Hague gained ONE seat.

As for the Iraq war, Tony was hardly an electoral liability. In spite of everything, Labour only lost 1.2 million votes in 2005 (securing 9.6 million) and still had a comfortable 66 seat majority. And as Luke Akehurst has pointed out, of those 1.2 million lost votes, more than two thirds went to pro-war parties - the Tories gained 400,000, UKIP 300,000 and BNP 150,000.

When it comes to Tory leaders, people underestimate Hague. The star of this Coalition, he was very charismatic as opposition leader. Blair didn't fight a patsy. He beat an able opponent.

As for Cameron versus Blair, let's not forget Dave couldn't win an election by defeating arguably Labour's most unpopular leader, so I doubt he'd have beaten the best.

So let's agree to disagree to disagree, Mehdi. But let's find that centre ground (or maybe a little bit to the left of it) and agree on something.

This morning has become that bit more exciting. And it's given you something interesting to write about for some time to come.

 

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