Alan Simpson: Blair is not the problem - it's the Blair project

There will be no orderly succession in the Labour leadership
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The Independent Online

Whichever way you look at it, Tony Blair's call for an orderly transition of leadership power is a plea for a change of leader without a change of direction. Behind it is the desire to embed social market Thatcherism into the character of this, and future, Labour administrations. It is a doomed mantle for Labour and for any would-be leader.

Whichever way you look at it, Tony Blair's call for an orderly transition of leadership power is a plea for a change of leader without a change of direction. Behind it is the desire to embed social market Thatcherism into the character of this, and future, Labour administrations. It is a doomed mantle for Labour and for any would-be leader.

The Prime Minister found the collapse of his personal standing something difficult to deal with in the election. Far more important, though, was the way in which the election marked the end of Britain's flirtation with a US-style presidency and the de facto death of a New Labour mandate.

On the doorstep, of course, everyone knew Blair was the biggest single factor that drove people from Labour. The war, trust, accountability and dishonesty were all cited as criticisms of what Labour had come to represent. If the alternatives had not been so unconvincing, we would have been in real trouble. But the depth of political change runs much deeper.

The failure (or liability) is not Blair the person, but Blairism the project. It cuts across all areas of policy. To move beyond the war, we have to take ourselves out of the war zone. If today's market obsessions reduce people to commodities, we need to set out alternatives to these obsessions rather than call for a different figurehead to pretend that they work. If climate change is the serious priority of this parliament then it has to change policies far more profoundly than it changes leaders.

I am as overwhelmingly disinterested in Blair, the person, as I am in Brown, the knee-jerk alternative. The manner of Blair's departure matters not one jot. The big debate will be about what, rather than who, follows him. This is where the conflict is unavoidable.

Despite protestations about having listened to the electorate, all the indications, from the shape of the new Cabinet, are that it is business as usual in the New Labour camp. All that this means is that clashes with "the Project" will come sooner rather than later in the parliament.

In the past, the Treasury team has stood loyally by the Prime Minister - be it on the war, top-up fees or anti-terrorism legislation. The Chancellor knows that each act of loyalty is now a nail in his own coffin. If the Prime Minister plans to rely on this loyalty to push his next phase of the programme through, in the face of both public and party opposition, it will turn out to be no more than a suicide pact between the pair of them. In many respects, the disputes between the two are a distraction from the real agenda.

New Labour was obsessed with bringing the private sector into public services. Now, real Labour must put the "public" back into public services. Bringing rail into public ownership is the easiest and most obvious starting point.

New Labour was as wedded to means-testing as Thatcher was. Today, we have to restate the case that social solidarity and stability is built around common entitlements and progressive taxation.

On social issues, New Labour was always keener on managing the people than managing the economy. This, in turn, feeds the secret state. We could have made telephone tapping and surveillance evidence admissible in court. Instead, New Labour pushed through draconian anti-terrorist laws.

It is, however, on the environment that the most profound shortcomings of New Labour are to be found. Scientists give us (perhaps) a decade in which to fundamentally change the shape of how we live. If we squander it this time, the world will not suddenly come to an end. It is simply that the damage trends will become irreversible. Blair at least understands the scale of the issue. Brown doesn't. Neither of them wants it to interfere with business.

In this parliament, the Labour Party has to conduct a fundamental rethink of markets themselves. We have to move from markets that pollute to markets that sustain, from markets in "bads" to markets in "goods".

Food security and water security will become critical challenges of the coming decade. Not a single occupant of Downing Street has a clue about how to address these. No less critical is the looming crisis in energy supply. Suddenly we are told that nuclear is the only answer. It is the big business solution to never-ending growth in energy consumption. There is, though, a much more exciting alternative. First, we need to turn energy consumption markets into energy services markets; where companies can make money out of non-consumption (and self-generation) more easily than out of increasing energy consumption. Second, we need to look at places that are generating their own energy (from sustainable resources) and planning to come off the national grid because they can meet their energy needs more effectively in doing so.

Climate change, rather than leadership change, is the central issue. There will be no orderly succession in the Labour leadership. The press will want to run it as a titanic struggle between competing egos; who best should command the ship of state? The trouble was that the Titanic needed a change of direction more than it needed a change of captain. Britain (and Labour) does, too. This is the challenge that has to impose itself in what would otherwise be a faux and futile succession race.

The writer is the Labour MP for Nottingham South

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