In with the old: 'New Labour' tag dropped from membership cards

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Indy Politics

It's enough to bring a tear to John Prescott's eye. Nine years after Tony Blair transformed his party's image by inventing "New Labour", the wonder prefix has finally been dumped from all new membership cards.

In a clear indication that what was once novel is now just old branding, all party members who pay by direct debit will receive a card that conspicuously lacks the word "new". Although the ad man's branding has never been formally adopted by the the party in its constitution, membership cards have proudly borne the logo "New Labour, New Britain" ever since Mr Blair took over as leader in 1994.

But the latest card, which has been redesigned in the style of a credit card, refers only to "Labour", although it retains the red rose dreamed up by Peter Mandelson.

Mr Prescott, along with Gordon Brown and many others in the party, now believe that the phrase "New Labour" has become tarnished and has outlived its usefulness.

The Chancellor famously appeared to challenge Mr Blair directly at this year's party conference when he cheekily adapted one of the Prime Minister's favourite phrases about the party. "Best when we are boldest, best when we are united, best when we are Labour," Mr Brown declared to rapturous applause from delegates in Bournemouth in October. A party spokesman said that dropping the word "new" had "no significance" and was merely a design change. It had been dropped only from cards of members with direct debits, he said.

Other party sources said that the new cards were meant to last for years and not be renewed every year, which was the guiding principle behind the change. "These are cards for the long term, put it that way," the source said.

Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North, said he was delighted by the change. "The sun is beginning to shine again, the red dawn has come. I just hope it's not a mistake," he told The Independent.

The clear implication is that, by the time of the next election, and certainly by the time of the 2009 general election, it would be curious to refer to a "new" brand that was very clearly old.

The phrase was approved by the architects of the "New Labour" project: Mr Blair, Mr Brown, Philip Gould, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell. Its aim was to show that the party had shifted decisively away from the old tax-and-spend image of Michael Foot and had built on the changes made by Neil Kinnock and John Smith.

Guided by Chris Powell, Labour's favourite ad man, the idea emerged of a rebranding that would be even more eye-catching than that of the new Democrats in the United States. Although the name was originally hugely successful, even Mr Gould, Mr Blair's personal pollster, wrote a memo worrying that focus groups described it as a "contaminated brand".

The phrase never caught on among activists and MPs, and few ministers use it Only a hardcore of Blairites, including the Prime Minister, Alan Milburn, Stephen Byers and Mr Campbell use it instinctively.