The recent revelations about complicity in human rights abuses confirms that the Blair legacy is toxic. Turning a blind eye to American moves in the ‘War on Terror’ is not confined to any one government, but the sense that the Blair regime was not behaving as a Labour government should was clear at the time. Astonishingly, the Blair tendency shows no sign that it should apologise and instead fuels opposition within the Labour Party, which still misleadingly polarises into Blair and anti-Blair factions.
Blair won a massive majority in 1997, creating an opportunity for progressive politics that was largely thrown away in the first two terms. Brown also shares much responsibility for a New Labour project, which having overcome loss of voter support in four elections to 1997 regained it, then lost it again. Arrogance and cynicism were at the core of the Blair triangulation project, allowing the hard left to still attack opponents for being ‘Blairite’. In reality the soft left was never Blairite, but suffered from supporting Blair in the 1990s, which the hard left never did. The latter were not compromised by what happened after 1997, nor the palpable loss of electoral support that the Blairites still fail to accept.
Blairites assumed, and still assume, that they have a superior grasp of political strategy securing a winning position. The evidence shows that in the first Blair government the party membership began to drop as members were alienated, so by 2001 the victory was gained by repeating 1997 without having the same levels of street activity. This reinforced the belief of the Projectiles that the Project did not need ground troops and they made no attempt to deal with the problems their own control freakery had created. The next government, 2001-2005, increased voter alienation and despite securing a working majority in parliament the regime failed to notice that it was increasingly unpopular.
It is possible to lose support and still win enough seats, and Blair did so in 2005 getting a working majority on only 37% of the vote – Corbyn got fewer seats in 2017 with over 40%. But the writing was on the electoral wall with over 50 marginal seats after 2005. Had Blair not resigned for Brown to take over, this would have come to haunt him. Brown’s failures in office and the defeat in 2010, with barely 29% of the vote, destroyed his reputation, but the failure in 2010 was not just Brown’s but Blairism and its core policies of triangulation.
In the 2010 leadership election the soft left voted for Ed Miliband to keep out David, his Blairite brother. Ed Miliband proclaimed that the New Labour era was over, but he remained committed to the Project. Of all his mistakes, appointing Douglas Alexander as campaign chief was the most damaging. Alexander forfeited the 2015 election and his own Scottish seat in a wipe out of Labour north of the border, which left the Party with just one MP. Recognising that the Blair Project was dead in the water should have followed – but dogmatism rules.
In the 2015 leadership contest, with the soft left Andy Burnham leading, Blairites chose to nominate Jeremy Corbyn to let him onto the ballot paper. There was no chance Corbyn could get on the ballot paper with his own level of support. So non-Corbynite MPs signed his nomination forms, believing that hard left votes might be drawn from Burnham to allow one of their two candidates to come through and win. Instead, the soft left membership voted overwhelmingly for Corbyn and a decisive end to the New Labour era. This was entirely due to the Blairite stupidity of nominating Corbyn. If they do not like the result, they know who to blame.
Blairites still take no responsibility for what has happened in the last twenty years, and continue to run a tight factional machine, producing the Progress-Labour First slate for the NEC. They show no sign of regret for their many mistakes or even willingness to accept they made them. This means that a vote for any of that crew is a mistake that could only lead to a return of the bad old days post-1997. Whoever I decide to vote for in the NEC elections, it will not be anyone on that slate.
The historical facts of New Labour failure have been obvious for many years, but still don’t make an impact in the world of Progress and Labour First. It is therefore easy for the hard left to target anyone not of their persuasion as ‘Blairite’. Unless there is a soft left revival, a polarised party will continue to favour the hard left bandwagon. The soft left, given the choice, prefers Corbynism to Blairism.
How long will it take for Blairites to realise their game is up? Physicist Max Planck once noted that in science “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”. It’s even more difficult in politics for practitioners to see the light. The Blairites are showing no sign of accepting that the accommodation of Thatcherism that won them their elections was the Midas touch.
Trevor Fisher is a Labour member and a former member of the Labour Co-Ordinating Committee (LCC) executive, the Compass executive and the Rank and File Mobilising Committee (RFMC).