Inside Westminster: Stop calling me a Blairite

Miliband exiling the Blairites fitted neatly with the Conservative claim that Labour is “lurching to the left”

Share

“You must stop calling me a Blairite,” a prominent New Labour figure barked at me the other day.  How strange, I thought,  that the name of a leader who won three general elections has become a dirty word in his own party.

At the Labour conference two years ago, Tony Blair’s name was booed during the speech of Ed Miliband, who didn’t know how to react.  He had won the leadership on a “not Blair” ticket but knew that the jeers would appal some people who had voted for the former Prime Minister.  Mr Miliband didn’t condemn the hecklers at the time, but criticised them later. A Blair-like third way.

Close allies say Mr Miliband wants to “move on from the  labels of the past.” Forget Old and New Labour; we are all One Nation Labour now. Naturally, every party leader wants to play happy families.  But Mr Miliband  is finding it hard to keep everyone smiling. 

When he reshuffled his Shadow Cabinet last week, he demoted three Blairites – Liam Byrne, Jim Murphy and Stephen Twigg.  Their moves leaked  out before the official announcement,  and the media sniffed a “cull of the Blairites”, which is not what Mr Miliband intended. With hindsight, it would have been better to have leaked early the promotions of  other Blairites.  By the time they were announced, the die was cast.

The Conservatives were delighted.  Exiling the Blairites fitted neatly with their claim that Labour is “lurching to the left”. The Tories dubbed the Labour reshuffle the “Blair Ditch Project.”  But their celebrations were premature.  On Sunday, important media interviews were given made by two of Labour’s rising stars – Tristram Hunt, the uber-Blairite promoted to shadow Education Secretary, and Rachel Reeves, the new shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, who would once have been described as a Labour right-winger.  Mr Hunt appeared to soften Labour’s position on the free schools championed by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. Ms Reeves seemed to harden Labour’s  line on welfare, claiming it had a tougher policy than the Tories on denying benefits to claimants who turn down job opportunities.  In fact, both frontbenchers were reiterating Labour’s existing policy, but they communicated it more forcefully – and, crucially, had been encouraged to do so by Mr Miliband. “We’re lurching to the centre ground,” was the joke that wizzed round Labourland.

The Conservatives are not laughing now. “Hunt and Reeves were bloody good,” one downcast senior MP told me. “If Labour can eliminate their negatives on welfare and education, we have a problem.”

Team Miliband insists their man is not lurching anywhere. “It’s not about left, right or centre,” one ally said. “The reshuffle was about promoting people with talent who ‘get’ his One Nation project. It was not about tribal markings.”

That’s all very well. But  there are choices to be made and signals to be sent. Mr Miliband will not prevent the media pinning labels on him, even if they are sometimes unfair. 

Whatever Mr Miliband’s distaste for Blairism and his determination to be different, to win a majority in 2015 he will need to build a coalition stretching beyond Labour’s core vote. That will mean appealing to the same people Mr Blair attracted.

This explains why David Cameron and George Osborne are targeting floating voters who want “a strong market economy and decent public services,” and why the Liberal Democrats offer a “stronger economy and fairer society.” They are all chasing one-time Blair voters now.  Love him or hate him, you can’t write Mr Blair out of the script.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Photo match: Nicola Sturgeon on the balance beam on 27 April. Just like that other overnight sensation, Russian Olympian Olga Korbut, in 1972  

Election catch-up: SNP surge, Ed Balls’s giraffe noises, and Cameron’s gaffe

John Rentoul
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk