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.

News
Disruption at Waterloo after a person was hit by a train
newsCancellations and disrupted service after person hit by train
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The almost deserted Liverpool Echo Arena on Monday
tvCan X Factor last in the face of plummeting numbers auditioning
News
Kirsty Bertarelli is launching a singing career with an album of songs detailing her observations of “real life”
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

    £13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

    £16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence