THE BLOG
15/09/2015 07:26 BST | Updated 14/09/2016 06:12 BST

Jeremy Corbyn: The True Heir to Blair?

Since 2010 David Cameron has successfully made the Conservatives seem more socially progressive, whilst simultaneously bringing through a punishing programme of budget cuts that surpass even those of the Thatcher years. Another Blair is not the solution this time around. Whether or not Corbyn is the person to redefine the left as Blair once did remains to be seen.

I was born in January 1994. On hearing my given name, a relative remarked to my dad "Anthony Blair? You know that's the Shadow Home Secretary's name?" "Ah well," my dad replied. "I don't suppose he'll be around for long". Six months later the death of John Smith triggered a leadership election. Blair won (albeit with a smaller mandate than Corbyn) and the rest, as they say, is history.

Except history is a large part of the problem. Blair became leader over twenty-one years ago. A considerable proportion of those who voted for Corbyn in the leadership election were of my generation. We don't remember the Labour Party pre-Blair, the crushing electoral defeats Labour suffered in the 1980s and the Winter of Discontent. Nevertheless I, alongside many thousands of young people, voted for Jeremy Corbyn. This has led to many of the old generation of Labour MPs, including my namesake, denouncing Corbyn's young voters as Orwellian-sounding "enterists", who "don't share Labour's values".

Corbyn's campaign was propelled along on a wave of populist, anti-politician, anti-establishment sentiment. This has been compared by many in the media to the rise of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, or even Bernie Sanders' growing popularity in Democratic primaries, but in reality it chimes more with the rise of UKIP and particularly Nigel Farage. Both have captured an anti-Westminster sentiment amongst a wide range of voters, crossing generational and political boundaries. Rather than pointing to the existence of a seething minority of militant Trotskyites, taking over the Labour Party by stealth, Corbyn's victory is more due to the fact that he isn't seen as a career politician. The hope that Corbyn has inspired in hundreds of thousands of people is nothing new. Politics is never all about pragmatism. Blair was able to capture the zeitgeist in 1997, utilising public yearning for change after the Conservative Party had become embroiled in financial and sexual scandals. For all Blair's talk of Corbyn's supporters needing a heart transplant, Corbyn has tapped into a similar sense of discontent with the status quo.

Corbyn's victory is being seen as a rejection of New Labour, of the centre ground or even particularly of Blair. Arguably New Labour died in 2010 with Brown's election defeat. Corbyn's naysayers have depicted Corbyn as a "throwback", as opposed to those from the centre or right of the Labour Party; the "modernisers". Young Corbyn voters, however, do not necessarily share all of his beliefs. Those same voters that threw their energy into Corbyn's campaign would have come out for a more moderate candidate who could capture similar enthusiasm. Burnham and Cooper, their skills honed by years of cabinet experience, seemed unable to express a single opinion unless approved by a media spokesperson first. Only in the last few weeks of campaigning, as Corbyn shifted the goalposts in terms of debate, did either candidate express a view with any conviction.

With Labour led by its most left-wing leader in decades, there has been much discussion of what this tells us about Blair's legacy. On Saturday, just hours after the announcement at the Queen Elizabeth II Hall, Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon was warning of how Corbyn posed a grave threat to our national security, our economic security and to the security of ordinary families. Sticking faithfully to script he made the same three points three times. In case we were in any doubt, Cameron tweeted the exact same three phrases on Sunday morning. This is Blair's true legacy; bland, stale announcements by government ministers, designed to be used by the media in ten second soundbites on the six o'clock news. This insistence on governing by committee, with no deviation from the party line is precisely what has turned so many people, young and old, away from politics, and towards previously fringe figures such as Farage and Corbyn.

What the likes of Tony Blair seem to have forgotten is the importance of mythology in New Labour's enduring legacy. Blair's undoubted success in winning elections has led "Blairites" to believe only a copy-cat of Blair could ever win an election for Labour again. Alas, times have changed. Blair's great success was combining Labour's traditional values of social progressiveness with a more right of centre economic approach. It was the right thing to do at the time, and it won over many of the middle-class voters sceptical of Labour that Corbyn must try and win back. However, since 2010 David Cameron has successfully made the Conservatives seem more socially progressive, whilst simultaneously bringing through a punishing programme of budget cuts that surpass even those of the Thatcher years. Another Blair is not the solution this time around. Whether or not Corbyn is the person to redefine the left as Blair once did remains to be seen.