Monday, August 30, 2010

Labour contenders await Tony Blair intervention.

Why the Hell should anyone care about who Tony Blair thinks should lead the Labour Party?

The contenders for the Labour leadership are bracing themselves for an intervention this week by Tony Blair, whose memoirs will be published as ballot papers drop on doormats across Britain.

The former prime minister was reported today to have remarked that Ed Miliband, who is making a pitch for traditional Labour voters, would be a "disaster".

Blair has been careful to ration his interventions in British politics since he stood down as prime minister in 2007, seeking to avoid Margaret Thatcher's mistake of acting as a "backseat driver" to John Major.

But the former prime minister, who is recording an interview with Andrew Marr to be aired on BBC2 on Wednesday night to coincide with publication of his memoirs, knows he will face questions about the Miliband brothers, who are the frontrunners for the Labour leadership.

This is the man who dragged the Labour party so far to the right that rock solid Labour seats like Glasgow East started to peel off towards the SNP. This is the man who lied repeatedly to us about what we apparently KNEW about Saddam's WMD and led us into the worst US foreign policy debacle since Suez. This is the man who appeared in front of the Chilcot Inquiry and found it impossible to even express regret for the loss of British troops.

So, why is the Labour party poised to listen to what he has to say now?

Blair believes the older Miliband has grown into a highly skilled politician and communicator who understands the central tenet of New Labour: that electoral oblivion will follow if the party resorts to its "comfort zone". Jibes this week by Ed Miliband about the dangers of remaining in the "New Labour comfort zone" have confirmed Blair's view that the younger brother would consign Labour to an even longer spell in opposition.

The Mail on Sunday reported today that Blair believes a victory for Ed Miliband would be a "disaster". This is an authoritative reflection of the views of the former prime minister, whose supporters have made clear his unease about Ed Miliband at social occasions in recent weeks.

Blair ran the Labour party as a Tory-lite organisation, often using the excuse - on subjects such as education funding - that he had to do what he was doing as the Tories would only do it more brutally than he was doing it.

He was never, in his heart, a Labour politician. Which is why he often mocked left wing critics of what he was doing as "Guardian readers". He saw many of us as hopeless Utopians, as unrealistic dreamers. According to Tony's logic, the swing to the right was the only way to keep the Daily Mail reader on board. And that had limited success. Often, Tory friends of mine would tell me how wonderful they thought Tony was and lament the fact that he wasn't a Tory as they would have loved to vote for him. I would suggest to them that perhaps he was a Tory which is why they all loved him so much.

But it honestly baffles me as to why we should listen to him now. I know he brought us electoral success, but at what a bloody price? He achieved this by occupying the middle ground and forcing the Tories further and further to the right. The problem with this plan was that Cameron caught wind of it and told his party to vote for Labour policies when they were, in reality, Tory policies in disguise. At that point Tony's great plan collapsed as the Labour backbenchers were outraged that they were being so right wing that even the Tories were backing what they were doing.

And it was during the reign of Tony that the Labour party went so far to the right that the Liberal Democrats became the voice of left wing politics in Britain.

So, the blessing by Blair will be as much of a curse to David Miliband as it is anything else.

David Miliband makes it clear that Labour has to reassemble the coalition that handed Blair his victories. In an interview with G2, which took place during a tour of community groups in Milton Keynes and Stevenage, he says: "Unless we start winning back the Milton Keynes, we'll never win power. We've got just 10 seats out of 212 in the south, excluding London."

He makes clear he has no patience with his brother's criticism of the governments of Blair and Gordon Brown. "I'm not going to run away from the best of what we've done over the last 13 years and I'm not going to reduce our crime policy to ID cards, or reduce our foreign policy to Iraq. We did lots of other things as well. We shouldn't get into a situation where just because we find one thing people disagree with, we trash the whole of it."

Oh, we remember the other things as well. I remember Blair refusing to ask Israel to desist as she pummelled Gaza and agreeing with Bush's plan to reverse all US policies since 1967 and allow the retention of many of the illegal settlements. We remember similar behaviour when it came to Lebanon. And which of us could ever forget David Miliband's intervention in the battle between Russia and Georgia, when he announced solidarity with Georgia, who were later found to have been totally responsible for starting the war.

So, Blair is right to identify young David as his successor, but for many of us that is not, in itself, a good thing. Like Blair, David can find no fault at all with the New Labour experiment. But I certainly can.

With each election New Labour fought, the turnout at every general election fell lower that the last. Many argued that people had lost all interest in politics. Then a million people took to the streets in protest against the Iraq war and it became clear that people still cared passionately about politics, they simply didn't care for the choices which were on offer to them.

The country deserves better than two parties offering essentially the same right wing bollocks. Which is why we should pay no attention to anything which Blair has to say.

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