The adulation is over; the drama begins : New Labour versus Old Labour

This week the Independent puts Labour and its leader under the spotligh t. Martin Jacques introduces a four-part examination of the battle inside the p arty;

For six months Tony Blair has had things easy. His election as Labour leader was greeted by public and party alike as a sign of hope in a country that had grown weary of politics and politicians. Until mid-October, we experienced Blair-mania: no o ne could get enough of him, virtually no one had anything unkind to say. Then, during the autumn, Blair-mania slowly subsided into the more measured and restrained Blair-enthusiasm. The new year has woken up to something very different: Blair-scrutiny. B lair is now confronted with a far more critical public, both inside and outside his party.

There has always been something slightly bizarre about Mr Blair as leader of the Labour Party. He is too much of an outsider. The great majority of the leaders of our political parties have been drawn from the mainstream of their respective traditions and cultures. As a result, you know roughly how, and where, they are going to lead their parties. Then, just occasionally, something interesting happens, usually as a result of desperation. A party elects a leader who comes from the edges of its tradition,who does not properly belong. Margaret Thatcher is the classic modern example, Winston Churchill an earlier instance. The relationship of such leaders with their parties is always uncomfortable, a little fraught. There is too much of the party they do not like, too many traditions, policies and habits they want to discard or transform.

This is the first time Labour has had such a leader. The row over Clause IV might appear to be just another old-fashioned Labour bust-up;. the truth is, though, that from now on we are going to witness a compelling drama at the heart of the Labour Party:a most conservative party led by a leader with the most radical of intentions.

Blair has not sought to conceal those intentions. Already, at the annual conference in October, he launched the idea of New Labour. It was never possible nor desirable to change the party's name; the next best thing, as a way of signalling a break with the past, was to add the adjective "new". Central to Blair's project - a favourite word of his - is the transformation of the party: one-member one-vote, reducing the role of the unions, building up the membership, shedding the old baggage, developing a new ideology, making Labour feel at home in the modern world, turning the party into a thinking organisation as opposed to one possessed of feet of clay.

The argument over Clause IV announces the moment when the Blair project has finally collided with the reality of the party: New Labour meets Old Labour. Until now the party has chosen to close its eyes and enjoy Blair's singular achievment, one which eluded both Neil Kinnock and John Smith: making Labour the centre of the political arguement. Now it must count the cost: the loss, the conflict, the end of hypocrisy and cant. And this is only the beginning. For, like Thatcher, Blair is a strategist, he has a project, he is a risk-taker, he will be relentless. And, as with Thatcher, those qualities are combined with an underlying toughness.

How will the party react? No one can know. The shock that Blair will administer to its system will far exceed anything it has experienced in the past. Kinnock bludgeoned it into something resembling the Eighties by a combination of bullying and persuasion. But acquiescence is no longer enough, Blair wants and needs to do something more. In this context, what is striking is not how many there are like Blair in the Labour Party, but how few. Who are the genuine kindred spirits in the Shadow Cabinet or thePLP? Precious few. And the same goes for the unions and the constitutency parties, perhaps more so. Thatcher, of course, had the same problem, but at least she enjoyed the powers of a benign despot; the Labour Party is not like that.

Blair will successfully negotiate the Clause IV argument. But this is only the first chapter. Blair's struggle to transform his party promises to be an epic and beyond a point he is unlikely to succeed. In five or 10 years the Labour Party will not be Blair-ite in the full sense of the term. But nor, by 1990, was the Tory Party truly Thatcherite. What he must hope is that he can drag his party kicking and screaming along with him without too much blood being spilt in public.

Through the period of Blair-mania, many Conservatives pointed out that Blair and the Labour Party were not one and the same thing. They were, of course, absolutely right. But what they failed to point out is that the best way to understand Labour in the Nineties is the look at the Conservatives in the Eighties.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Campaign Manager

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role incorporates a mix of ...

    SThree: Recruitment Consultant

    competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree: Did you know? 98% of our di...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    competitive: SThree: Did you know? 98% of our directors started with SThree as...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sa...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen