Labour Party members and those in the movement fighting the brutal attacks of this Tory-led coalition government on jobs, benefits and services will be furious at the clearly co-ordinated efforts of the right in the party to push Labour back towards the so-called “centre ground” of the New Labour era. A selection of failed relics from the Tony Blair era have risen from the political grave to attack Labour’s “leftward” shift and to call for a return to the old “Tory-lite” approach.
First up was little-known Labour MP Simon Danzuk, who suddenly decided that Labour was taking the wrong approach by opposing attacks on benefits. Writing in The Telegraph (of course) he offered the following:
"Seeing people that are capable of working languish for years on benefits is not something the Left should be proud of. It’s something we should be fighting. Otherwise why call ourselves the Labour Party?"
This call to back the Tory line on benefit claimants will come as a huge insult to the hundreds of thousands facing real poverty as a result of the Coalition’s attacks on living standards.
Next was former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett who, writing in the New Statesman magazine, informed us that Labour has to be "…about a great deal more than politics built on grievance and the unhappiness of a resentful and selfish public sphere." Then came another ex-minister John - now Lord - Reid, who added that, “You have to move from being a voice of protest to offering solutions as you move from being an effective opposition to a potential government. What he [Mr Miliband] now has to do is to set out the direction of a future Labour government on questions like welfare, on the economy on housing and so on.” In other words forget about fighting the cuts and tell us how you are going to implement them!
However, what they were all waiting for was the return of Tony Blair himself to join the campaign. Lo and behold, the Prodigal Son returned. First, again in the New Statesman
magazine, the ex-prime minister wrote:
“The Labour Party is back as the party opposing “Tory cuts”, highlighting the cruel consequences of the Conservative policies on welfare and representing the disadvantaged and vulnerable... This scenario is more menacing than it seems.”
Just in case we did not get the message, he quickly followed this up with a speech at Judson University in Illinois, USA, in which he talked about the problems of division in US politics, before noting that the same problems existed on the other side of the pond, adding:
"The very fierce left-right distinctions are really a 20th-century thing. In the 21st century most members of the public don't really think like that.
"They will think one way on one issue and another on another issue. It's a post-ideological age. If you have a budget deficit you have to fix it. If you have a very polarising political divide, the debate becomes very uncivil, and people find it a turn-off.
"What I watch for in political leaders is: do you have the courage to stand up to the party base and say in the end if I'm elected I represent all the people not just the people who voted for me? If I'm elected prime minister, I'm here to represent the whole country, not just the party."
This gibberish, which recalls the long-forgotten “idea” of the “third way,” is nothing short of a demand for Labour to embrace the capitalist programme of endless-austerity. Blair’s call is for the party to reject the membership and the affiliated unions and, instead, take its orders from big business and the City of London. This is what is meant by representing “all the people” - i.e. all the rich people!
Why are the Blairites doing this now? Clearly the hope is that they can undermine the current Labour leadership of Ed Miliband and either push him to the right or, even better they hope, get rid of him altogether and bring in someone more of their liking. Some have even speculated that Blair himself is looking for a return to British politics to reclaim the lost crown. Despite the official denials of Blunkett and co. that this is not a “New Labour putsch”, it is clear that this is the direction they wish to go. Already several other Blairites have signalled support including Alan Milburn, Liam Byne, Ben Bradshaw, Dame Tessa Jowell and, of course, Lord Mandelson, who quickly added that, “Tony is saying what he has always thought – that the old dividing lines… have got to be redrawn for new times.”
These are new times. This is the era of unprecedented capitalist crisis around the globe removing all the old certainties and beliefs. Blair’s hope to recreate New Labour will fail because it has no answer to the current situation. Labour should tell Blair and the others to clear off and the task should now be to commit Labour to the only programme that can succeed: a socialist programme.