In this Labour leadership election, one of the least important failures of the wing of the party that used to win elections and govern Britain well and fairly has been one of terminology. What should it call itself?
Paul T Horgan, one of my correspondents, writes:
“The right wing of the Labour Party is deep into a process of marginalisation that started under Brown. But right wing in a democratic socialist party is not a good way to win Labour hearts and minds.
“They were previously Blairites and their party was New Labour. A generation ago, they were Social Democrats and quit to form their own party, leaving Labour to face 16 years in opposition until a new generation of moderates could evolve from the 1983 and 1987 intakes. Before that they were Gaitskellites [above, Hugh Gaitskell, promising to “fight, fight and fight again” to save the party he loved, in 1960: Getty] and lost out to the Bevanites, especially after their leader died suddenly on the point of victory as the Tories faltered after 13 years in power.
“Nowadays they are red Tories or Tory lite. These are pejorative terms, invented by opponents in the party. Blue Labour was floated under Ed Miliband, but had no traction. The Kendall-Hunt-Umunna axis needs a proper name to save it from ridicule.
“Former communists adjusted to the overt failure of their ideology and transmuted into Greens or anti-capitalists or both. In my opinion, they are neo-communists. I believe they call themselves anti-capitalists because if they were honest about their ideology people would simply file them under Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko and ignore them.
“New Labour and Blairite are yesterday’s brands and have all the marketing footprint that Findus has these days. The right of the party should relaunch itself and come up with a new name to rally around.
“I think that neo-socialism could be a good term. It contrasts with neo-liberalism. It has been used before in France, but then Liberal Democrat means something different in Russia and Social Democrat was considerably more left wing in Germany before Bad Godesberg. In music, R’n’B and swing were recycled in the last two decades to mean something entirely different. Conservative has a different meaning in Iran.
“Perhaps there should be an informal competition amongst the willing to give themselves a better label than the one imposed on them. Neo-socialism has my vote. What it stands for can be a matter for debate.
“The wets under Thatcher did not survive being described as such by their opponents. The moderates need a flag to rally round now that their previous ones have been captured and reduced by their enemies. They needs a brand relaunch.
“They need a name. And a good one that that. Neo-socialism? No?
“Oh, and they seriously need to get some fire in their bellies. Calm explanation in a reasonable tone to camera is for Jackanory.”
• Paul has missed out one important relabelling exercise, namely Peter Mandelson’s highly effective division of the party into modernisers and traditionalists in 1990-94. But he is right to suggest that the label that seems to be gaining ground now, moderates, is inadequate.
I prefer Labour centrists, although that might compound the mistake the neo-socialists made in the leadership campaign of appearing to triangulate as a matter of positioning – in the centre – rather than to advocate policies from principle. The problem with Jeremy Corbyn is not that he is “too left wing” but that he is wrong and that his policies would be bad for the country.Reuse content