The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn must “get back to” the best aspects of the early New Labour period, the leader’s top political advisor has said.
Andrew Fisher, who was recently reinstated after a controversial party suspension, told a seminar at University College London that some policies of New Labour’s early period had been incredibly successful.
Mr Fisher’s conciliatory praise for Tony Blair’s government is likely to surprise some of his critics on the right wing of the party, who tried to get him sacked when he was first appointed.
The policy chief however told the meeting that New Labour’s early mantra of adopting “what works” was important and had produced good results in terms of poverty reduction.
“I think there was that early period of New Labour where they were talking about things that we would want to get back to: joined-up government, what matters is what works, evidence-based policy-making,” he said.
“I think they moved away from some of that and I think it’s very important to get back to that and I think we need to do be rooted in all of those things.
“The successful policies of that period, whether it’s Sure Start, drop-in centres, the minimum wage, the New Deal programme, tax credits, pension credit, were all built in that early stage when there was still that mantra.”
Mr Fisher was suspended after previous comments emerged in which he had referred to Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell as “scumbags” and others in which he had criticised the Labour party at length.
At the time Mr Corbyn however said he had full confidence in Mr Fisher. The party’s national executive committee voted to reinstate his Labour membership after an internal investigation
Speaking at the seminar, which was on the topic of the future of the left in Britain, Mr Fisher caveated his praise of Tony Blair’s government.
“They [New Labour] did help produce a fall in the poverty rate, child poverty rate and pensioner poverty rate, but they didn’t deal with widening inequality,” he said.
“They slowed the rate of widening inequality but they didn’t actually send it into reverse, which is what we’d want.”
Leading New Labour figures have been less positive in return about Mr Corbyn and his top team. Tony Blair himself said last year that anyone who believed in Mr Corbyn's policies "in their heart" should "get a transplant".
Labour MPs Caroline Flint and Siobhain McDonagh both made official complaints about Mr Fisher's comments, for which he received a warning from the party and wrote a letter of apology.
Mr Fisher was coy on specific matters of policy during the seminar’s discussion. He said he was currently neither for or against the idea of a universal basic income – recently floated by the RSA think-tank – and would listen to representations.
The policy chief also called for an end to the “perverse auction” of harsher immigration policies and said the party had some thinking to do about how it could capture the initiative on that issue.
He also spoke positively about suggestions that monetary policy could play a wider active role in managing the economy, “especially in times of crisis”.
Mr Fisher is Mr Corbyn’s political advisor. Within the party, political advisors play the role of chief policy advisors on their particular brief.
Before joining Labour Mr Fisher set up the Left Economics Advisory Panel and wrote a book called “The Failed Experiment: How to Build an Economy that Works”, about the 2008 financial crash. He worked as a trade union official.