Earlier this week I was sitting with a colleague at work, and as it does quite often nowadays, the issue of politics came up. Despite writing about and following politics quite avidly, it’s something I steer clear off at the office.
It started when he brought up Corbyn. I tutted, or sighed — my usual Corbyn reaction — and we managed to waste about 10–15 minutes on various topics. Many things came up: Brexit, Trump, Clinton, but the main topic was Blair.
My colleague is to the left of me, although apparently, he was a Tory a few years back (then again Corbyn spent years voting with the Tories…). When Blair came up, he came up with the usual lefty arguments: Red Tory, Iraq… oh, that was it. I sighed again, I tutted again, I rolled my eyes with disdain. Earlier this week I watched Alistair Campbell’s interview with Owen Jones, and I felt like I was in the same position with my colleague. It was just straight in one ear and out the other, and would not listen to any form of reason.
Tony Blair deserves better, and so does New Labour. New Labour did incredible things. New Labour rebuilt Britain and made it prosperous and progressive again after 18 years of Conservative rule. New Labour brought in Sure Start, the Good Friday Agreement, devolution, they halved homelessness, dropped hospital waiting times by 69 percent, brought in 39,000 extra teachers, 39,000 extra doctors, 81,000 extra nurses, increased benefits and tax credits, and upped school standards astronomically. They increased maternity leave, introduced paternity leave, almost eradicated child poverty, and brought in the first ever minimum wage.
Don’t ever compare Blair and New Labour with the Tories in front of me. If you think that Tony Blair is a Tory, read that previous paragraph again and compare it to what Tories do in power…
For too long we’ve allowed people to associate New Labour simply with the economic crisis and the Iraq invasion, but this discredits a lot of the great things we achieved in government. As Campbell illustrated to Jones this week, Labour and the leadership must be talking up what we’ve done in the past, because it’s only hurting us now.
Of course, 1997 was a very different time. There was no social media, print media was king, there was less scrutiny, and politicians had time on their sides. But there was drilled operations, a credible leader, and that front bench under Blair… wow. Brown, Cook, Straw, Prescott, Harman, Beckett, compare that to now! And then compare Mandelson and Campbell to the likes of Milne and Zarb-Cousin…
The other main issue was that he was unable to look at the positives of Blair and accept any criticisms of Corbyn. I can happily be critical of Blair and New Labour, and highlight their mistakes. The Iraq War intelligence was flawed, and not enough resources were put into helping to rebuild afterwards. New Labour didn’t handle PFI well, and there could have been more regulation in the city. I can admit that, but Corbynites can’t admit the problems with their dear leader.
We are now seeing erratic opinions on the political spectrum, as I wrote here about how Britain is being stretched to both the far left and far right. Traditionally, elections are won in the centre ground, and the best leaders and governments are those that can entice across the spectrum and take the centre ground for themselves.
Policies from both the left and the right are popular. The public is moving more in favour of greater tax, more redistribution of income, more spending, and people are becoming more comfortable with same-sex relationships, premarital sex and abortions. However, the public is also becoming more favourable about other traditionally conservative views, especially on issues such as crime, terrorism, immigration, as well as civil liberties. You could say that New Labour was the cause of both trends, but also that they were successful because they managed to engage themselves with all voters, and win three majorities to implement real change! The way to judge a leader and a party is not “do I like these policies and people?” but “will a voter in a marginal seat switch from Tory to Labour because of it? And New Labour certainly managed to do that.
When you look at the chaotic and troubling world we live in, the likes of Blair and Brown brought progressive stability to the country, and changed it for the better, Corbynites would do better to remember that, and even embrace it. Labour deserves better. Blair deserves better.🔷