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: Personal Tax Senior

    £28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

    £22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

    £13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

    £20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

    Day In a Page

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory