Last night, no less than the third article penned by Blair regarding Corbyn’s ascendance appeared in the Observer. It is now possible to predict the events which follow such a Blair intervention to a higher degree of accuracy than whether the next Dapper Laughs Vine will be misogynistic. Labour’s hard right mount a defence of their hero so slavish it would be outlawed in the Old Testament as idol worship. They reject any criticism of Blair’s policies or personality outright, and assert that nothing short of a full-blooded return to Blairism can save the Labour Party. Meanwhile, the left trot out the tired clichés of ‘war criminal’, ‘neo-liberal’, ‘lost Labour more votes than anyone else’ etc. It should be obvious to anyone that both positions are overreactions, so why is it that the party is so hopelessly divided over their most electorally successful leader?
I confess when I joined Labour at 20 years old I was very critical of Blair. One of my earliest political memories was the Iraq War, which happened when I was 10. Throughout my childhood and teen years, New Labour was the party of war, spin, cosying up to Bush, authoritarianism etc. I was too young to remember a Conservative government, and indeed most of New Labour’s greatest achievements. Therefore, my image of Blair was the relentlessly parodied, unpopular and mistrusted PM which he became at the end of his tenure. However, since joining the party, and since the election in particular, I’ve begun to see his premiership in a fairer light.
There are indeed things about Blair’s time as PM that should be criticised. PFIs have largely proved inefficient, high-cost ways of spending taxpayer’s money, Iraq was a poorly calculated and executed war which has in no small part allowed the most brutal cult since World War II to flourish. Increases in surveillance and police powers went too far and the failure to regulate the banking sector had catastrophic consequences which we are all familiar with. New Labour was by no means perfect, and could have done more with the mandate it won in 1997 and 2001.
However, recognising that does now mean we need to ignore its achievements. I do not just mean the obvious ones like the introduction of the National Minimum Wage and Sure Start, but also introducing Civil Partnerships, equalising the age of consent and repealing Section 28. Securing free admission to museums and galleries, tripling Britain’s international aid budget, banning fox hunting and, far too-oft forgotten, the Northern Ireland peace process.
The fact that the above list does not include renationalisation, higher top rates of tax and constitutional reform does not mean it’s not one that left-wingers shouldn’t be proud of. New Labour genuinely did do good things for Britain, and it is a gross betrayal of the disadvantaged to paint it as being the ‘same as the Tories’. I honestly find it inestimably confusing and frustrating that purists on the left cannot see past their dogma to recognise that New Labour did help the people they supposedly care about so much.
This is why the current mania surrounding Jeremy Corbyn is so absurd. There is quite simply no. way. at. all. that he will be elected as PM. Even if the British public wanted a ‘true’ left-wing government (they don’t) they will simply not vote for a man who has been sympathetic to practically every enemy Britain has, associates with dodgy anti-semites and worse, wants closer ties with Russia, gives a minutes silence for IRA fighters etc etc. These aren’t smears – I actually quite like Corbyn and agree with much of his politics. However, I am not going to pretend for a second that he is electable. What is infuriating, however, is that so many of his supporters are basing their backing him on completely irrational and simply downright wrong assertions about New Labour. Read tweets from many Corbynites, and you would be forgiven for thinking that Blair was far worse than Major and even Thatcher for disadvantaged Britons.
Blair’s acolytes also need to reassess their stance. Failings of New Labour have to be recognised as well as its achievements, and a man too close to the Murdoch empire, with morally reprehensible profitable associations with tyrants and absurd rates for charity conferences cannot be relentlessly defended. I do not have to pretend to admire the man to do the same of his achievements. It is true that Labour only wins in the centre ground, but this has shifted significantly since 1997. To allow Labour and the left to seize both it and power back, Labour’s left and right have to let Blair go, and actually start thinking.