Breathing old life into New Labour?

by Stephen Tall on June 1, 2006

Back in my days as a Labour member, in June 1994, I undertook a week’s work experience in the Liverpool regional HQ in Walton.

It was a quiet time, owing to the Euro elections having been just fought, so the office was in the usual post-campaign wind-down, though the leadership elections provided some enjoyable background gossip. It was there I met Peter Kilfoyle, the thinking man’s John Prescott (in a good way), with whose constituency office the HQ doubled-up.

I had, and have, a lot of time for him – the more so after reading his brilliant and brave account of the brutal defeat of the city’s Militant Tendency, Left Behind. A battler and a bruiser, for sure (with a real antipathy for Peter Mandelson); but also an intelligent guy, whose resignation in 2000 was the first real sign of the splintering of what had been New Labour.

Not for the first time, he uses a column in today’s the grauniad to launch a broadside against Tony Blair, this time against his recent foreign policy speeches – what Mr Kilfoyle terms, “our Great Leader’s musings on the future of the planet, a teleological triptych adumbrated in London, Australia and the United States”:

… as the prime minister urged us, in the third of his speeches, at Georgetown University, “let us go back to the immediate issue: Iraq”. His practised line was repeated: that the war was about removing Saddam (wrong – it was sold on the erroneous basis that Saddam threatened us with weapons of mass destruction). He once more inferred that terrorism was an Iraqi problem before the illegal war was commenced. This is a purely American construct – no one saw Saddam as a sponsor of international terrorism in the fashion of al-Qaida other than the zealots of the present American administration.

Naturally, Blair did not “want to reopen past arguments”. He sang the praises of the new Iraqi government whose members he had met – safely ensconced within the heavily guarded “green zone”. His rhetoric became stratospheric about these guardians of Iraq’s fledgling democracy, and their struggle to bring western concepts to the heart of the Arabic and Islamic world. Just one sentence, one line, mentioned the price being paid by ordinary Iraqis, the principal sacrificial lambs in this great geopolitical game. No mention of the daily assault of Sunni on Shia, or of Shia or Sunni; a stony silence on the Kurdish oppression of the Assyrians.

Instead, we heard the same tired cliches about Blair’s worthy, if nebulous, aspirations for a better world.

When the history of the rise, plateau, decline and fall of New Labour comes to be written – it may be sooner rather than later – one could do worse than begin with the names of the first two Labour MPs to nominate Tony Blair for the leadership of the Party: Peter Kilfoyle and Mo Mowlam.

Mr Kilfoyle’s resignation speech cited New Labour’s failure to address the needs of the so-called ‘heartlands’; Dr Mowlam was resigned by Mr Blair for becoming just too damn popular.

It’s too late for Mo; but I see that Peter’s tipped for a return under Gordon Brown, according to his Ask Aristotle profile: “Since his resignation he is said to have become closer to the Brownites. If the chancellor ever gets the top job Mr Kilfoyle may yet return to government.” His resurrection, together with that of John Denham, might just demonstrate New Labour has a bit of renewable energy left in it yet.

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Hello Stephen,

facinating post as ever.

Can I just clarify a couple of points?

1. How long were you a labour member?

2. What attracted you to new labour?

3. do you ever regret leaving?

4. under what circumstances would you rejoin?

by Cllr David Morton on June 2, 2006 at 10:25 pm. Reply #

Thanks David.

1. Joined in 1993, when I was 16. Left in 1999, when I was 22 (though I’d voted Lib Dem for the first time the year before).

2. Not sure I was a New Labourite at first. I started with a typical young person’s naive belief in socialism, sparked by reading Tony Benn’s diaries after my GCSEs (didn’t everyone?). In ’94-5, I bought into Tony Blair’s ‘democratic socialism’ vision. And then I started growing up, lost my socialism, and gained liberalism in its stead.

3. Never. But of course opposition is always easier.

4. I’m an economic and social liberal. I believe the Lib Dems are the party best able to express what I think Britain can become.

I cannot ever see Labour embracing liberalism in any recognisable form. Even where they have begun to implement some liberal market measures (for example, in some of their public service reforms), they have no understanding of how to relax their vice-like grip on day-to-day minutiae.

I think the Lib Dems are still failing to address the choice agenda adequately. But we do at least understand localism. The two are crucially indivisible components of how I think a liberal society can best function.

by Stephen Tall on June 3, 2006 at 12:42 am. Reply #

I regret sounding so confrontational in my questions. I’m just always interested in what role tribalism plays in politics. I have always been a lib dem member but I remember just after the SDP merger when I was becomming politically active. The party seemed to have disintergrated and my dad was pushing a labour membership form on me. I filled it in but left it unsigned on my desk for months before dramatically tearing it up. What always intrigues me is it is bad enough for the family that i didn’t join labour but it would have been much worse if I’d left it if you see what I mean.

by Cllr David Morton on June 3, 2006 at 10:09 am. Reply #

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