Tony: My Hero

The real failure of Labour wasn’t Blair, it was marketing. If they had known how to sell rather than spin and if they’d had the courage of their own policies, Labour could have told a story to avoid both a Tory government and a Corbyn leadership.

No, this isn’t a guest column by John McTernan. It is the result of a cold analysis of what Labour actually achieved in office and contrasting it with their own rhetoric. For an organisation famed for messaging and manipulating opinion they were utterly abysmal at selling themselves.

Any mention of Blair today brings to mind the haunted face, the Iraq War, the dubious millions acquired from tyrannical regimes or international finance. Yet it was Blair whose government delivered peace in Northern Ireland and devolution to the UK, cancelled debt for the poorest nations and doubled international aid, brought in a smoking ban, Sure Start centres and Child Trust Funds…from the global to the local to the personal.

It’s true that there were 13 years of unrivalled majorities to work with and true too that any government is likely to improve things over a decade in power, but when you compile a list of achievements, it reads like a progressive’s dream…minimum wage, winter fuel payments, 500,000 children lifted out of poverty, free nursery places, apprentices doubled, free bus travel for the elderly, the repeal of Section 28.

There is paid holidays for full-time staff, paternity leave, child tax credits, TV licences for over 75s and probably a Tuscan villa for every family. The point is that whatever went wrong for Labour, the underlying record is strong and progressive.

Overall, however, most of the extra spending went on improving services, not on benefits. For example, in health there was a major programme of investment and reform, including a new NHS building programme and extra nurses and doctors. Efforts were concentrated on cancer, heart disease and stroke, and on the reduction of waiting times for appointments and treatment.

Schools received 48,000 extra FTE equivalent teachers (11.9 per cent) and the number of support staff more than doubled, with over 133,000 extra teaching assistants and 96,000 extra other support staff. A new school buildings programme, designed to replace or upgrade the entire stock of secondary school buildings within 15 years, saw over 160 schools rebuilt or refurbished between 2004 and 2010, with more than 450 underway.

From 1998 all four-year-olds were given the right to 12.5 hours per week free education for 33 weeks of the year. This was extended to three-year-olds in 2004. By 2010, free provision had been extended to 15 hours per week for 38 weeks per year. In public housing, 90 per cent of social housing was brought up to a “decent” standard.

That’s John Hills, Professor of Social Policy and director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics.

He concludes: In summary, it was not, as some claim, that Labour spent a lot and achieved nothing. Rather it did spend a lot, but it also achieved a lot. 

The view of Andrew Harrop of the Fabians is probably fair.

On the whole, Labour was most effective in fields where it set explicit and measurable goals that were fairly amenable to national government intervention. Examples include relative poverty, health-care waiting times and university participation. But there was little progress on issues which were not official priorities, such as preventing rising wealth inequality or the stagnation of median pay. People like to criticise Labour’s top-down target culture, but it often worked.

 I agree with his conclusion: Financial crisis, calamitous foreign policy and vicious in-fighting have obscured memories of the last government’s impressive social and economic achievements.

But today Labour are out of office, condemned as Red Tories and subject to the firm corrective of a Corbyn leadership. What went wrong?

Well for a start they were not cohesive, no matter how many rebuttal units and pagers they had, no matter how often Alistair Campbell bullied reporters. They weren’t together where it mattered – at the top. The grudging and at times volcanic relationship between Blair and Brown meant they could never stand together convincingly under one banner and both take the credit. Brown huddled with his own set, briefed against Blair, refused to back him, took the credit he could and ultimately ousted him in what some countries would regard as a coup. That meant the smooth roll-out of a positive story that would form the history was made problematic and success was sacrificed to vendetta.

The other issue is more complex. Throughout Labour’s period there was a refusal to appear loyal to old Labour as if the rebranding excluded recognition of the past, all of which had to be denounced. Like regimes everywhere, they began with Year Zero. In the indyref Brown was able to return to the historic role Labour played in building Britain with the NHS and Welfare State (pre-Blair) but in office it was as if it never happened. Instead of claiming credit for continuing the traditions of the wider Labour movement, shiny New Labour had to stick to the mantra that it was different and distinct from the past with its imagery of mass meetings and boiler suits, beer and sandwiches and socially primitive working types. That at least was what the message most voters were left with. (When did you see union leaders entering Number 10 to be greeted by Tony with his Cool Britannia mug?)

I believe it led to an instinctive reluctance to admit just how much they were actually changing Britain through progressive policies. Individual initiatives were publicised and bragged over, for sure, but however inspired in speeches, Blair failed to make a coherent case that spending more, aiming it at those in need – mainly children and pensioners – and following a social democratic agenda was a transformational success. In real terms, total public spending rose by 60 per cent during Blair/Brown period, from £449 billion in 1996-97 to £725 billion in 2010. It’s as though they didn’t want to admit it. They did boast of huge extra amounts going to education and health but couldn’t quite square the circle and say: Look, spending taxpayers’ money really does bring benefits. Were they afraid of the Tories (in the early years, certainly not) or scared of the media (absolutely).

Part of the historic mission was to stop the Press bashing Labour as socialists hence the breakfasts with the Daily Mail and the family relationships with Murdoch. What a waste of time…

I recall an academic telling me of an unpublicised meeting at an English university early in the Blair premiership. Brown was addressing a small audience made up exclusively of academics – most of them lefties and Labourites. My friend was open- mouthed at Brown’s declaration of how he planned to redistribute wealth to the working poor through tax credits and other measures. He went further than anyone had expected from public announcements and raised the hopes of his listeners that socialism was unrolling in Britain. ‘But’, he said. ‘I got the distinct impression he didn’t want anyone else to know. It wasn’t for media dissemination…’

Buried in there is a truth – that Labour didn’t want to appear left-wing. So long as policy could be dressed up somehow aspirational – that is, middle class – they were relaxed about selling it. The result was they obscured what today would be a genuine monument to their success.

You don’t have to remind me of the failures. They had majorities to do anything they liked but chickened out. They used PFI far too much. They were greedy and failed to regulate the crooks in the City. Blair was vain and seduced by war. They believed their own publicity and drifted further from their core voters. In Scotland they didn’t know what devolution was for and were scared of their own creation.

There is a great line from Labour-loving Polly Toynbee. The only place to cement social change is in the hearts and minds of voters. Blair and Brown were defeatists, convinced Britain was essentially conservative, individualist, imbued with Thatcherism. Confronted with the Mail, Sun, Times and Telegraph, the culture looked immutable, a force to be appeased.

And so, through cowardice and lack of conviction, the Labour Party lost its soul and denied itself the legacy of a progressive Britain. It allowed careerists who knew no better to take key jobs, created the conditions for a real Tory government and opened a door to a takeover by the true left it disdained.

If Blair is censured in the Chilcot Report, it will throw the final earth on the coffin of New Labour.



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22 thoughts on “Tony: My Hero

  1. It’s true that there were 13 years of unrivalled majorities to work with and true too that any government is likely to improve things over a decade in power, but when you compile a list of achievements, it reads like a progressive’s dream…minimum wage, winter fuel payments, 500,000 children lifted out of poverty, free nursery places, apprentices doubled, free bus travel for the elderly, the repeal of Section 28.

    There is paid holidays for full-time staff, paternity leave, child tax credits, TV licences for over 75s and probably a Tuscan villa for every family. The point is that whatever went wrong for Labour, the underlying record is strong and progressive.

    Derek, while I agree with you that Labour had some good policies (you have mentioned some above), they had many atrocious ones as well. I don’t think overall their record was strong and progressive. PFI, foundation hospitals in England, tuition fees were introduced, banks were left de-regulated, they failed to establish an elected chamber to replace the farcical House of Lords, they never reformed FPTP for Westminster elections, their foreign policy was by and large a complete capitulation to the neo-Cons in the USA, they largely distanced themselves from European affairs, they waved the white flag at Murdoch, they had a great chance to re nationalise the railways and blew it, Blair and co let corporate interests almost completely capture the UK Labour Party (Lord Sainsbury etc). Given their 13 unbroken years at Westminster, I think they by and large failed to push even a moderately progressive agenda. They were and still are neo-Thatcherites. The fact that the gap between rich and poor increased under their extended period of governance is another major bad mark against them. They also shredded loads of civil liberties, particularly under the authoritarian David Blunkett.

  2. If Blair is censured in the Chilcot Report, it will throw the final earth on the coffin of New Labour.

    Would your flat-mate censure you?

    Of course not.

    Blair, as a new Catholic, has only one thing to fear.

    Eternal Damnation.

    Or the second, the opinion of history, which is unlikely to be favourable.

    As an atheist, the first option is a joke, as a realist the second is probable.

  3. Tax credits are not progressive. They merely let employers off with paying low wages and has trapped workers in low paid jobs. Especially women employees who couldn’t afford to take on mpre hours as it affected their credits. Now as the tories cut the credits it has left those employees trapped in a life of abject poverty.

    He should have spent the money on cheap/free childcare so that employees could take more hours go into training or education in order to develop their skills and thus be able to take on higher paid jobs.

  4. Alasdair Macdonald

    You are right to present a balance sheet for the Labour Governments of 1997/2010. They did, indeed, have some remarkable successes. And, the question is why were they so reluctant to publicise it? Why were they so unwilling to emphasise the philosophy which underpinned so many of these changes? Why did the get involved in the Iraq war?
    The latter seems to me to be paralleled by the downfall of that other politician who similarly redistributed power and wealth – Lyndon Baines Johnson. Vietnam, which was not his war, destroyed his credibility and also put pressure on the funding of The Great Society. The military/industrial complex, against which Eisenhower warned, demanded it get even more of the cake. Iraq became a similar drain on resources and a source of discredit and distrust.
    Both Messrs Blair and Brown were admirers of Mrs Thatcher, particularly what they saw as her ‘conviction’. Mr Brown’s academic researches indicated that in times of stress people tend to the conservative, and so, they made their pitch there., while, as you say, introducing radical, but unheralded, changes.
    They rightly, saw the msm as destroyers of Labour governments and sought an accommodation. But, they were deluded, seduced and, callously and gleefully destroyed, once the electorate had got disillusioned.
    Gramsci, whom Mr Brown would certainly know of, would have advised establishing a new hegemony. New Labour failed to do this. Indeed, with their ‘light touch’ regulation of the city and their attacks on civil liberties, they further embedded the neocon/libertarian one. Many of them, personally, had feathered their nests, with help from News International, and felt more at home in the metropolitan salons, than in Blackburn, Sheffield, Hartlepool, Sedgefield, etc.
    They did not see the potential of IT to provide a humane and communitarian philosophy, hoping instead, to moderate the excesses of the msm – a fool’s errand.
    However, the opportunity was wasted and we rely now on the support for Scottish independence, green politics, the decency of many people in the face of an appalling refugee crisis, and the various grassroots movements across Europe.
    So, we need to see the election of Mr Corbyn as an opportunity to mobilise the decent people of England.

  5. What they got right was in the end blotted out by what they got wrong. And on that score they got a lot wrong. Somewhere along the way they lost sight of what they were supposed to stand for and started chasing tory votes. Yet it was a party that had lost a lot more from 97 to 2010. Blair himself was elected on a smaller vote share than Kinnock had gained. The Scottish branch got fat and lazy and by the end were an absolute joke. They were in the end derided by most of the UK party as nothing more than room meat that would do what it was told – how right they were.

    Blair and Browns real legacy was to make the labour party as toxic as the conservatives in Scotland. After all, Thatcher said her real legacy was New Labour.

  6. The real failure of Labour wasn’t Blair, it was marketing.”

    Derek, if you really believe that, you are delusional! The reality of it is that Bliar was in it for himself first and foremost. The result of that is now apparent for all to see! The party will soon split and I know what side I will be on! Pity poor deppity dug who will be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, not knowing which party, who will give her instructions, to answer to……………

  7. The truth is Derek any government will be judged on what they got wrong – and I think that is how it should be.

    They had the goodwill and the consent of the vast majority of the population to do what they liked but they didn’t do it.

    They lifted 500,000 children out of poverty? Who says so and what does that actually mean? The reality is that they left office with the gap between rich and poor the widest it had been since the 1930s Great Depression.

    The rich got phenomenally more wealthy yet Blair and Brown did nothing to curb that or redistribute the wealth. They deliberately set up the conditions that let the banks run amok and the multinationals avoid paying their share of tax (or indeed any tax at all).

    They left a whole generation saddled with the outrageous scam that is PFI.

    They gave us devolution yes – but quite deliberately and to a marked extent they neutered it at birth by the level of restrictions they imposed on its powers.

    They could have reformed voting for UK elections but they didn’t.

    They could have scrapped the House of Lords but they didn’t.

    You can’t mitigate the fact that you mugged a pensioner because at one time you helped a pensioner cross the road.

    Blair and Brown have scarred families and communities just as much as the Tories before and since.

    And look I haven’t even mentioned Iraq.

  8. Blair secretly and illegally redrew the maritime boundary. So that when you went for a paddle in St Andrews, you were in English waters.

  9. Derek, take those rose tinted spectacles off. As others have mentioned, PFI was a disaster, minimum wage is a con on the taxpayers, the rich became indecently rich, etc, etc., and we have been plunged into seemingly eternal warfare. Blair and Brown did all that and much, much more in the same vein. As a result, the Tories think they have carte blanche to do their worst.

    The world, never mind Britain, is the worse for those New Labour years.

  10. I cannot really compete with or add much to the excellent points made above, but …

    … in summary, Derek: the Iraq war and Blair’s foreign policy generally were unforgivable; letting the banks run amok was unforgivable; not reforming the parliamentary and voting systems was unforgivable. What I know about PFI suggests that there is not much to forgive there either. Etc.

    So no, I do not agree with your conclusions.

  11. What they got right made their governance and what they got wrong that much harder to bear and all the more cynical.

    Take the case of devolution as an example. It could be reasonably argued that Labour’s leadership reluctantly facilitated what risk of internal division, civic Scotland and a degree of international pressure demanded. Labour didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory at the first time of asking in 79 either and still today there are those I’m sure who view devolution more as a means of control than an electorate’s right to decide their own governance. Labour’s own rifts within the party are well known over the issue and to this day I believe minutes of their devolution meetings at cabinet level are still closed to the public gaze, countless FOI requests having been rebuffed.

    Two famous quotes in terms of Labour and devolution:

    English MPs control all the money which Scotland receives – is that ‘fair’? England constitutes 85% of the UK’s population and 87% of its wealth. It was English MPs who agreed to devolve some powers to Scotland in a Westminster Act of Parliament; but year by year controls over public spending levels for all of the UK continue to be exercised by Westminster. And power devolved is power retained, not ceded.“

    Jack Straw

    “Powers that are constitutionally there can be used but the Scottish Labour Party is not planning to raise income tax and once the power is given it is like any parish council: it’s got the right to exercise it.”

    Tony Blair.

    A single example of duplicity and expediency turned to personal/party political advantage. They dined out, as it were, on the hard work, dreams and aspirations of a great many others for quite some time on that.

    And THAT was New/Nu/NooLabour’s talent and their shame on a great many issues, their ability to ride the populist wave and take full credit/advantage rather than merely their fair share. They saw this as their right, rather than their duty of care and service. Their success bred arrogance, a sense of self entitlement and finally contempt for those who gave them purpose and power.

    They left us.

  12. One other thing now that I’ve had a couple of hours kip. History/life isn’t just a ledger of facts and figures, pros and cons, its also and largely actions and consequences.

    Journalism when practised well, as in this case, places the facts and/or figures before people to peruse, debate and come to a conclusion based on their own life, perceptions and experiences. That is how the plus side of Labour’s balance sheet should be viewed, a list of things they achieved to be balanced against the negative side and our life experiences of living with their governance and their legacy. A balance sheet which when the accounting is done we decide whether they are in the black or the red.

    We could all make up a fairly long list of what they got terribly wrong in terms of policy. That’s government and that’s politics. Government do get as much wrong as they get right. You simply move along to the next government if you reckon this lot didn’t get it quite right.

    What is unforgivable of the ‘party of the people’ however, is the naked manipulation they employed, the strategies to instil fear, hatred, division amongst their own electorate. They used these tactics to take us to war on a lie, kill in our name. More recently deny nation partners the right to chart their own futures and stifle democracy. They used every resource at their command then and now to divide and influence, up to an including of recent times, working hand in glove with those they were created to protect us from. They wilfully over their tenure became fully paid up members of the establishment and they have the ermine to prove it.

    They created so much ill feeling and mistrust among their own people. They have caused so much harm at home and overseas. Their balance sheet is most definitely in the red.

  13. Iraq, and financial disaster finished off New Labour.

    Detention without trial, terror laws to deport civil offenders, universal surveillance, suppression of dissent & secret trials show them up for the authoritarians they became.

    I almost wrote left-authoritarians, but the worsening inequality, PFI foolishness and failure to control the systemic risk of big finance are easily enough to outweigh the social spending programmes. Crumbs off the table of plutocracy don’t engender social cohesion.

    Blunkett; Clarke, Straw, Reid, Hoon, Smith – I’ve called Blair’s “the cabinet of all the thugs” before. Undemocratic, illiberal self-servers. It’s well seen how Robin Cooke would’ve felt he had to go.

    Up to the Iraq lead-in, New Labour’s was a good record, on balance. As Blair’s focus followed the arc typical of a long-serving PM, changing from domestic policy to foreign affairs, the flaws in his character manifested themselves ever more disastrously.

  14. So Derek, is this a coded suggestion to Corbyn on how he should run the opposition?
    Referring his policies against what the last labour period in office was as a comparator to demonstrate their credibility.
    Could do worse, I suppose; a double rehabiltation!

  15. It was so, so obvious even back in pre 97 election days where Labour was going.
    The clue was in Tony Blair’s efforts to make Labour electable, i.e. to achieve power.
    Convictions were ditched and Labour became a well marketed commodity.
    Glossy packaging with a free toy inside, just like any crap breakfast cereal, and the public bought and swallowed in it their droves.

    The whole point of Blair’s New Labour was the taking of power, for power’s sake.
    When politicians start talking about making their party electable you now should know, if it wasn’t previously obvious (and it should have been), that they have given up politics as a vehicle for delivering change for the benefit of their electorate.

    Blair, Brown and their various cronies, were (and still are) all modern day mafioso, taking the political equivalent of protection money to feather the nests of vested interests.

    Iraq was just an egotistical side show, “Look at us,” Labour were saying. “We can move and shake with the big boys” (the USA). Blair and the Labour party are soaked in blood and they washed their hands in champagne.

    Labour’s real crime was to condemn entire generations of innocent, well meaning UK citizens to lives of debt and sweat. Labour turned the UK economy into a vast casino, with the stakes and payouts backed up by the mortgages, loans and credit cards of the entire population. And there is no alternative, we are all in it together. The chips are down but the casino is still in operation. The roulette wheel keeps on spinning.

    The big clue to the the New Labour mindset is the reaction to Corbyn. Now Corbyn will not be everyone’s cup of tea (or champagne if you are a Blairite) but what he represents is an attack on the Casino, the backhanders and the gravy train lifestyles of today’s plastic, Oxbridge, Pimms soaked elite. They don’t like it and what they see as threatening is Teflon Tony’s legacy, his big Casino, being torn down and replaced by real jobs, real education, a real economy, real people, real ideas. Can’t be having that because there will be no place for the Yvette Cooper’s and Chukka’s of this world (and the Has-Beens recently kicked out by the Scottish electorate. There’s no way back for Wee Duggie and Murphy under Corbyn).

    Labour; the Party of Crooks, always and forever (if the Oxbridge PPE Degree holders get their way)

  16. What really baffles me is why Blair ever joined the Labour party. He was a posh kid from a fee paying school. He was as right wing as any Tory leader. Maybe he was an agent for Thatcher to turn the Labour party into Tory Lite in order to then destroy them forever.

  17. Danny Dorling: New Labour and Inequality (2010)

    “New Labour – Time for the Autopsy
    In Britain, every previous Labour and 20th century Liberal administration presided over a period when inequalities in income, wealth and health fell overall during their periods of office. It would take a deep cynicism to believe that was coincidence. Voting progressively used to bring about rapid social progress. In contrast, the overall record of the 1997–2010 Labour governments has been to preside over a period when all three of these inequalities rose. This is most clearly seen when assessed geographically across
    the country as a whole. To at least 2008, life expectancies, income and wealth rose most rapidly in those parliamentary constituencies that returned a Conservative MP in 1997. They hardly rose at all in the most loyal of Labour seats. The 1997–2010 Labour governments had more time and more money than any of those previous Labour or Liberal administrations, but – other than in some educational outcomes – New Labour failed to achieve social progress of a kind that deserves to be placed alongside the achievements of previous non-Conservative administrations. New Labour was new. What was new was that it was not progressive. Its term of office failed to coincide with social progress but with a rapid dividing of society.”

    Worth a read for anyone who thinks Blair a hero.

  18. New Labour’s fatal error was to suck up to those that control the UK MSM and the City of London instead of seizing the golden opportunity provided by securing a huge majority, to legislate to force pluralism of ownership on the MSM and clean up the casino playing practices of the Banks and Financial Services Industry.

  19. Humerous Vegetable

    A failure of marketing? Can you sell shite to an electorate which has had several centuries worth dumped on it already, without somebody saying “Wait a minute, I’ve got a shite overload here. Don’t sell me any more”.

    Still, at least the sewage treatment plants of MSM and the state broadcasters are making money from it.

  20. Ah, the desire to have Labour back again and be part of England again, because that’s what it means England thinks it’s the UK it also thinks it’s Great Britain and everyone else is part of them and subject to majority rule

    Did we enjoy being subjects then? I don’t think so, but we saw no alternative

    There is Now isn’t there, and that’s the point, if we own our country we get to have a say, we can vote them in, and we can vote them out

    If we’re still subjects we have to depend on the English and cross our fingers, now that’s backwards not forwards, if Scotland wants to do something we can give it a try,but if we’re still ruled by another country we don’t get to choose and there it is

    Independence means choice, Subjugation means, well, Subjugation There is no Union, what there is, is rule by another country on their terms like it or lump it

    Are you liking it Derek, is Corbyn going to make you like it and if so that’ll be….. Till The Next Time….

  21. dennis mclaughlin

    “Yet it was Blair whose government delivered peace in Northern Ireland and devolution to the UK, cancelled debt for the poorest nations”…………..?.

    Derek, did you actually read this back to yourself?;and on signing it off here – are you being serious???.

    this shit is straight from McTiernan’s dog eared copy of Machieavelli.

    i thought you were a more honest chap Derek….

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