Did you hate Blair etc at the time, or is it a retrospective type of disgust?
Up to a point, I believed in ‘Blair’. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that they look egregious, but even with that knowledge, were probably better than the alternative.
I need politicians who are actually going to change things, not a commitment to an unworkable ideal principle.
I was always unsettled by that "Pump your hand with mad staring eyes and fixed grin
," way he had and was really bemused by everyone seeming to agree he was a great orator. I mean, I could see he was a communicator but, even though he was saying stuff I wanted to hear (albeit a Clause 4-lite
version), I couldn't quite see that. But he certainly offered hope and I wiped a tear or two from my eye that sunny May morning as I walked down the street and thought, "We've won our country back."
In retrospect, it wasn't just the War crimes that did for New Labour, though. It was the very fact that New Labour turned out to be little more than a bloodless coup by a slightly Left-leaning faction in a vast and complex party (who could almost have been on the left of the Tory party, though I doubt Alistair Campbell could even stomach the thought of that) and no less than a selling down the river of and entire grassroots network. Keep doing all that door-knocking, will you, but don't be expecting much of a say any more was the message. A top-down coup, the rope-ladders of power and influence pulled up.
But it lead to a landslide so we all wore it. How couldn't we after 18 years in the desert? Old Labour, bad; New Labour, good. Blairism might not be an ideal form of socialism but, hey, socialism is dead anyway. Gotta move with the times. Get in power. Then and only then....
In 1997, everything was set for a Labour landslide. The country - seemingly permaTory at one point - had had more than enough of the sleeze and didn't trust the Right on Europe, on social policy (Poll tax riot, anyone?) and maybe even the economy. Everybody (Noel, Liam, Jarvis, even Alan Sugar) felt the time was right for change. Labour's victory was so great and the Tories were in such disarray that it gave the impression that New Labour, and not the Tory Party, were the natural party of government. Blair, Campbell and Mandy reigned supreme. They were right. Ditch Clause 4. Modernise. Win. Transform.
But Blairism - New Labour - it turned out wasn't a permanently winning hand. It wasn't a royal flush. What it offered appealed enormously in 1997 and the landslide gave the impression that it was the new normal but it was a fatally flawed product and here's why.
New Labour went from 1997 landslide to slightly reduced but still massive majority in 2001 to much reduced majority in 2005 to being ousted from power in 2010. So much for New Labour's winning formula.
What went wrong, then? The Blessed Tony going? No, he had his self-satisfied nose bloodied in the 2005 election. In a post Iraq War/WMDs world, he was, and remains, toxic. The war itself, then? Was that the downfall of New Labour? Seems pretty obvious it was. Except that, in a very important way, that was more a symptom of New Labour's downfall than a cause.
"New Labour," if one had to define it in one (perhaps over-generous) phrase, could be "Caring neoliberalism," maybe. Someone else might suggest something like "compassionate capitalism." And certainly, its commitment to the minimum wage, its immediate ordering of an inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder (a matter which will forever stain Major's Tory legacy), it's seeming determination to be socially progressive and, indeed, "meritocratic" set it apart from being merely Tory-lite.
But there was also something very troubling about it. By cutting itself free of the Unions and the motions and resolutions of the activists in the PLPs around the country it had turned itself - transformed itself - into a sort of centre-leftist Tory party. Not accountable to its members. This was no doubt seen as a selling point at first because i got rid of all those loony do-gooders with their CND badges.
But it also meant that the direction of power
in the party, which had traditionally flowed upwards from the bottom through activists representing and reporting on constituents, and from CLPs, all with their own democratically mini "parliaments" of reps, and from the NEC towards the top was suddenly reversed to a large extent. Blair had made himself presidential within his own party.
The significance of all this is that just as the last days of Major were characterised by almost constant sleaze (i.e. Many MPs acting as though they were above the law, could do what they want and were not even pretending to have any sort of moral compass), the new Blair government became almost immediately characterised by "cronyism." Jobs handed to Blairites from the top down, not appointed or elected on merit from the bottom up. Welcome to the new Boss.
was the fatal flaw in New Labour.
An utter lack of accountability mixed with a patronising view that they knew what's best for us. Don't like Labour presiding over privatisations or cosying up to Big Business? Live in the real world, Comrade.
But of course there was an almost invisible but hugely important phenomenon developing all the time, just below the surface of daily political life.
Everyone was getting pissed off with not being listened to. Ordinary people, no matter what their politics, were getting a sense of being completely removed from the political process and, worse, still, from political consideration. It was like they were shouting in a vacuum or something.
The Public (that stupid bloody Public that knew fuck all and was probably racist anyway) wasn't politically apathetic - or at least, not all of them were. They had been shouting, even as the politicians lamented their supposed indifference. No fucker was listening though.
And there we have the single most significant reason for the rise of Corbyn. He didn't come to save us, he no doubt had no idea what was about to happen. But it did happen. And the reason it happened is because lots of people who were written off as being depressingly uninterested in politics (God help us all with this bloody apathy, eh?) were actually just uninterested in being fobbed off and treated like some sort of window dressing to the political process.
Whatever you may or may not think of Corbyn's views, his competency or, indeed, his misanthropy, it is surely his decency, his commitment the democratic process and his integrity which has reignited the democratic process rather thrillingly in his Party. Just when it needed.