Pssst, Gordon Brown was a Blairite
One of the most irritating things about Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour opponents is this constant claim that they are “not Blairites”. They keep giving examples of Corbyn’s critics within the party and then say “he/she is hardly a Blairite!”
All this really does is expose the limited nature of their political horizons, and how limited are the parameters of belief in which they operate. What is it, in any case that makes such people “not a Blairite”?
Most irritating of all is when they point triumphantly to Gordon Brown, who recently endorsed the coup, and say “I suppose that makes Gordon Brown a Blairite lol”
Then when you reply that indeed he is, they treat it as the most hilarious faux pas, as if you don’t know your political history, or that you are twisting logic to an insane degree. That they take this attitude actually exposes a major problem with their approach to politics, which is that they view it in terms of tribes or factions rather than ideology and policy.
As these people chortle away they seem to have no concept that politics is about policy. They instead see it as some silly sporting contest, or Neolithic power struggle between two chieftains.
In fact, of course, Blair and Brown came up through exactly the same wing of the party. Not only that but they jointly created a new wing of the Party as the architects (with Peter Mandelson) of New Labour. It was these two who came together in the early 90s with the shared idea that Labour must drop what they saw as its old fashioned socialist baggage and present a new set of values to the electorate. Both of them still very much believe in that approach today.
Of course, once in government, they did not get on at all well on a personal level, and this is where the belief comes from amongst the chatterati that Brown is not a Blairite. However, even that personal animosity has its roots in the fact that they share an ideology. For in the 1994 leadership election they made a deal that only one of them would stand precisely because they did not want to split the New Labour vote. The resultant bitterness on Brown’s side and insecurity on Blair’s was the cause of their massive mutual dislike.
When it comes to wanting to oust Corbyn, though, their motives are identical and are Blairite ones, namely that in their eyes he is too left wing and will alienate Tory voters and the business community.
Brown aside, what about those who are still active today and oppose Corbyn but claim not to be Blairites? The way I see it they are Blairites to the core. Whether they realise it or not their whole approach to politics in general and Labour politics in particular is shaped by Blair’s legacy.
The big shift in Labour thinking brought about by Blair was to maintain that the Thatcherite economic settlement was a done deal, that Labour must accept it and work within it. The early Thatcher governments brought about a big change in social and economic policy in the UK and for a while Labour resisted these changes. Blair persuaded the party that it should not.
The Thatcherite changes included: Privatization, Cuts in Direct Taxation, De-regulation of Finance and Industry, Reducing the Powers of the Trade Unions, Tighter Control of Public Spending, More Robust Attitude towards Crime, Greater scrutiny of Benefit Claims, Blair cemented these changes by not reversing them and in many cases expanding them.
Whether they claim to be Blairite or not the Front Benchers who have just resigned were absolutely operating under this framework. They do not seek to make any big changes to society by ending that framework, although they may dislike the Tories for cultural reasons and oppose their policies on technocratic grounds.
Corbyn, by contrast, has always maintained his opposition to the party’s acceptance of the Thatcherite framework. This is what led to all his backbench rebellions during the Brown/Blair years.
Now he has become Party Leader with a mandate to move the party away from acceptance of Thatcherism and indeed to transform the country by repudiating Thatcherism in government.
His opponents, in seeking to remove Corbyn, seek to end that experiment. In other words they wish to maintain the Blairite tenor of the party’s politics.
It is therefore absolutely justified to call them Blairites.
So why do they think that they are not?
Well firstly, they are again viewing politics in tribal rather than policy terms. They seem to have no concept that politics is about policy, not clan loyalty, and so label themselves according to which clique they belong to or which mentor they had when they entered Parliament.
Secondly, it’s a form of virtue signalling. With Blair both discredited and safely out of politics, they can gain themselves easy progressive points by claiming not to be associated with his policies or legacy.
Thirdly, I think many of them are still subject to a psychological hangover from their more radical student days, when they were protesting against the Iraq War. They resented Blair for committing the party to such an action at the time and still resent him for it now. In fact had they been members of the establishment at that time they probably would have allowed themselves to be persuaded to vote for it. Indeed, many of these self-professed “non-Blairites” did vote for the bombing of ISIS in Syria back in December.
As a final point, I would say tribalism in general is a huge failing of the Labour Right. So often they focus on tribal issues as a substitute for policy. This is why they have such an obsession with winning elections, regardless of what policies they win on — they view political parties as football teams, elections as a cup match, the Party Leader as a technocratic football manager, and his Shadow Cabinet as the star players.
It is also why they are unable to distinguish between Corbyn’s rebellions against Blair and the current PLP’s rebellions against Corbyn. They are fond of saying things like “Oooooh, Corbyn voted with the Tories 500 times so doesn’t that make him a Red Tory ? lol”
Er, no, because Labour has a heritage as a Centre Left Party and Corbyn was rebelling against right wing measures. That is NOT the same as supposed Labour MPs trying to stop their Party Leader from being Left wing in a Party of the Centre Left.
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- Further Reading: The Psychology of the Centrist Left by Frank Parker