The comment by Dave Ward, the general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, that the far left Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn would act as the “antidote” to the Blairite “virus” in the party takes me back to a darker time in politics. The early 1980s, when Labour was in hock to the Bennite hard left and was heavily infiltrated by the Trotskyist Militant tendency, was not a good time to hold less than pure socialist views. Labour moved relentlessly to the outer reaches of politics and by 1983 a weak and divided party was all but destroyed by a rampant Tory party under Margaret Thatcher.
I was convinced at the time that there were many on the left who preferred opposition to the difficult business of government. I have not changed my mind. Seeking government does require a certain compromise because Labour represents a broad church of opinion. For example, some favour unilateral nuclear disarmament whilst others favour multilateral nuclear disarmament. I used to support the former, but the mad mullahs of the middle east have changed my point of view. How can Labour square that particular circle?
I see politics in terms of the art of the possible. Tony Blair knew that, which was how he won three general elections. The invention of ‘New’ Labour was, in my opinion, the only way Labour could win in the 1990s. We can argue until the cows come home as to the merits of New Labour, but it resonated with voters, especially those from the middle classes who needed something more than what “Old” Labour was offering. They had to believe Labour was on their side too. The poisonous, self-centred legacy of Thatcher was not properly addressed by Blair because it still exists today, with many people still voting purely for themselves rather than for society in general. But the Blair years, aside from the wars, were not as bad as some make out. Britain was a better place until the worldwide crash of 2008. Saving the NHS, building new schools, Sure Start, the minimum wage, the restoration of trade union rights at GCHQ, the Human Rights Act and oh, so much more, were not the result of a “Blairite virus”: they were the sort of policies Labour should be all about.
Blair’s reputation has been reduced to tatters because of Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan. Iraq was far worse than a misadventure: it was a humanitarian disaster, a catastrophic misjudgement. It is fair enough that Blair be judged by his decision to go in with his eyes closed, but it is simply wrong to pretend that for most of its life the Labour government from 1997 was bad for Britain.
Jeremy Corbyn is now the clear frontrunner in the contest to become leader. He has attracted the most trade union support and he has attracted the most constituency Labour Party nominations. The bookies now believe increasingly that he will win and bookies seldom get it wrong. What will this mean for the Labour Party?
Put simply, Corbyn will represent at best permanent opposition and at worst electoral annihilation. He does not do compromise, he does not do loyalty. If the survival of a Labour government hung on Corbyn’s vote when he did not support 100% Labour Party policy, he would not support it. He has voted against his own party 25% of the time during his time in parliament. He won’t change. Corbyn = political purity. Now this may play well with those who want to see a so-called “different” kind of politics, but how different is it? Successful government requires loyalty, compromise and pragmatism. I see a Labour Party changing society by a process of evolution, year upon year, decade upon decade. Blair’s mistake was to not entrench Labour’s core beliefs in equality and fairness into the national psyche, but the truth was that New Labour was successful and in government it worked.
Corbyn represents “big bang” socialist slogans, the same ones that Tony Benn offered in the 1980s. They won’t attract the support of the very people on whom a Labour victory would depend, just a small part of the Labour movement. Even I, a lifelong Labour supporter, would struggle to even vote for an uncompromising party led by Corbyn, never mind rejoin it. It is all very well for the affluent left wing chattering classes to call for a Corbyn victory because a subsequent Labour defeat would not affect their lives in the same way as it would the poor and the vulnerable.
Dave Ward does neither himself nor his union any credit with his reference to the “virus” of Blairites, but don’t be surprised by that. It was the unions who saddled us with Ed Miliband and much as I liked him, hardly anyone saw him as a potential prime minister. Corbyn would be much, much worse than Miliband, and his election as leader would be terminal for Labour. The end.