Some Blairites, after Corbyn was allowed on the ballot for leadership election after the NEC decision last night, are saying that the Labour Party is dead. It's not dead. It's just shed some dead skin. Blairism died, so, in fairness, the Labour Party the Blairites imagined is dead.
An early symptom of its terminal illness was apparent when the Blairite Labour government ignored two million people marching to protest against the Iraq War. Thousands of active supporters gave up at that point. A rot set in. Blair once said of Labour activists and voters more progressive than his ilk that they 'have nowhere to go', meaning it was more appropriate for Labour to chase the centrist political constituency rather than focus on the progressive element of the electorate for whom Labour was the only choice. There’s a cynical logic to that. But they did have somewhere to go - home. They stayed home rather than campaign unpaid in the rain for leaders they considered not only unrepresentative but morally bankrupt. Others stayed home rather than vote for a party that had blood on its hands.
In Scotland they had 'somewhere to go' - the left of centre Social Democratic-lite SNP, which has now supplanted what was a New Labour Scottish civic establishment with something competent and popular. How progressive it really is is a valid question. However, in reply the SNP can reply 'No to Tuition Fees', 'No To Trident', 'No to austerity', 'No to War in Iraq', 'Yes to Chilcot'. That's more progressive than Blairism. But it is traditional Labour clothes, attire that was cast aside as 'unelectable', that is worn. This discarded political clobber was picked up by the SNP who have now been in power for 9 years, whose party membership has trebled, and whose leader is the political Queen of Scotland, more popular even than her predecessor. And her popularity, like that of her party, is still rising.
Labour's attempts at opposition in Scotland have been crushed ever since they'd stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories, not just during the Indy Ref, but also on tuition fees, Trident, austerity, etc etc. Labour under Blairism became a national embarrassment, an unelectable one. Blairism’s main Scottish achievement is that it has managed to become even more toxic than the hated Thatcher’s Tories. And Blairism claims Corbyn is 'unelectable'?
Aside from Iraq there xwas also the gradual realisation that, beyond the smiley façade of beaming Blair, there was little 'new' about New Labour. In fact it looked more and more like Old Tory, pre-Thatcher Tory. In other words, New Labour, or Blairism, stood for managing the neo-liberal policies of the Tories marginally more humanely rather than offering a real alternative. Blairism, over generously, conceded the argument regarding any possible alternatives on behalf of the whole Labour movement. This was grudgingly tolerated while elections were being won. There was always hope that a few progressive titbits might be offered, as sops to real progressives. But anything offered after 2003 was offered by a party with blood on its hands and many refused to feel grateful while taking gifts from hands that dirty. I was ashamed of being a Labour supporter. I didn’t vote for them from Iraq until now. And I’d actually bought into Blairism. What the hell. It was a new way. I’d been in management and liked the talk. I thought I’d been an old hand stuck in old ways and this new guy was sweeping all before him. But niggling doubts became disagreements and eventually, with Iraq, utter disgust. We’d been conned. There was nothing new here at all. If Blair was doing Bush’s bidding on the global stage, whose bidding was he doing at home? It sure as hell wasn’t mine. Or the millions who shared my disgust. I became one of these people who had nowhere to go, joining a lost generation of progressives who, if we opened our mouths, were considered blasphemers, out of date and unrealistic, politically unwanted and untouchable, disenfranchised and disengaged. After all, Blairism was more interested in circumventing ordinary people on its journey to continued power by getting into bed with the media moguls, the billionaires, the powerful. We were bypassed.
Blairism had political capital. Some of it was created by itself. Praise where praise is due. Undoubtedly, Blairism charmed the media and Labour as a result got a fairer hearing than for years. But this was only in part due to Blairite charisma. The easy ride the media gave Blairism (and still does) was in part also due to the knowledge that this was no radical group intent on challenging power, far less intent on redistributing it. The moguls and the establishment were safe. They knew that after 18 years of Tory rule the people were tired. So a change of the most cosmetic type was inevitable, if only to maintain the illusion of democratic choice.
Blairism offered minimal hope to an electorate intent on change regardless and yet offered maximum hope to the powers-that-be that nothing would change. This isn’t just an example of a narrow consensus naturally coalescing across the political landscape. It’s more than that. It’s a consolidation of the seismic Thatcherite-inspired shift of the political consensus to the right. Thatcher once famously stated that her ambition was not just for the government to never be socialist, but for the opposition to never be socialist. Once again, Blairism delivered. A socialist free opposition whose job was not only to maintain the new Neo-liberal “consensus” but also to act to ensure no alternative to this “consensus” appeared to threaten this “stability”. Hence the purges of socialists from Labour in the late 1990s. Hence New Labour joined in the demonization of anyone questioning the existing order, calling them “unelectable” and “unrealistic” if they suggested alternatives to New Labour’s course.
New Labour had the political capital (Massive House Of Commons majority, friendly media) to ride this out. It had enough capital even to ignore 2 million protestors on the streets of the UK in 2003. And ignore them they did. Their political capital was seeping away though. Firstly through the loss of activists, and then, as a natural consequence of that, through a loss of voters. Blairism ignores the link between activists and voters. Yes, we get it. We understand that voters are not as committed as activists. Yes, we understand that they listen more to other arguments. But the purpose of a party of vision is to lead the political argument, not follow it. If you just follow the voters and the media “opinion formers” because you are too scared to challenge misconceptions or misrepresentations then you risk following them to Brexit or worse. However, if you have principles you believe in and wish to persuade other people of them you must challenge people’s existing views. Not aggressively, but an alternative view must be fought for nonetheless.
On the other hand, if your principle is nothing more than wanting to be in power you’ll be found wanting when it comes to inspiring voters with integrity. Then of course cosying up to power is your only option and your only argument to the world is that being so close to power will enable you to “do some good things”. This is a delusion. If you are cosying up to power you are not its challenger. You are its pet. Now, show me a pet that’s changed the world.
Corbyn offered all those in the wilderness a voice, There were a lot of us. Some objective political scientist might have identified us as a “large constituency” worthy of re-engagement with the political system. But Blairites described us as “dogs” “rabble” “mob”, ironically while complaining about political abuse. History has a different word for us. That word is “People”.
When Corbyn apologised for the Iraq war it brought back none of the dead, cured none of the injuries, soothed none of the life-lasting grief that thousands in this county, and that millions in the Middle East, have suffered.
But, it turned a page. Here is a man fearlessly taking on power - and they say he’s not a leader? By this very act, he’s demonstrated more leadership than any of his critics. Apologising for the war crimes (and history will show that’s what they were) cures no one. No memories of horror or of loss will subside due to those words. But, with Corbyn at the helm, Labour will NEVER again be co-opted into Neo-Liberal wars abroad. Nor will any Corbyn-led Labour Party impose Neo-liberal austerity and disenfranchising thousands of people.
As for being unelectable, the very fact that every weapon in the cynical, dark-art armoury was employed to keep Corbyn off a ballot that even his worst enemies conceded he'd win in a landslide tells you that these enemies do not believe Corbyn is unelectable. It tells you they fear his very electability. Why? Well, maybe, just maybe, when Corbyn wins the next General Election, the Blairites will have nowhere else to go.
Yes, part of Labour definitely died. But it died years ago. The squeals and yelps we hear from Blairites now is the sound of Blairism facing its death.