Mark Steel: Labour and a bout of mutual loathing

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of the main reasons for the founding of "New Labour", its supporters insisted, was to ensure there would never be a return to the days when Labour was forever rowing with itself, over issues such as nuclear weapons or the unions. And this has been a huge success, because now they all agree on those issues and instead hate each other because they all want a job that's more important than the one they've got.

Where an argument in the Labour Party used to be a battle about the meaning of socialism, now it's a posh version of a power struggle in a borstal. It would be more honest and much more thrilling if Alistair Darling put some pool balls in a sock and whacked them round Brown's kneecaps, yelling "Now listen – I'm the daddy in this party now – right!" And then flushed Ed Balls's head in the toilet.

None of the current Labour leaders appear to believe in anything, except for what's best to get them through the next week. But none of them can admit this and say, "The main and substantial difference it would make if I were to be Prime Minister, is that in those circumstances it would be me being Prime Minister, and none of the others."

And those that can't seek the post of Prime Minister are all lining up behind whoever they think will look after them if they win. And so they might as well choose who's on what side by picking teams. All the MPs can stand in a huddle while Miliband and Ed Balls take turns in picking their favourites, until at the end there's just Blunkett and Prescott, stood with their hands in their pockets while the two captains whisper, "I don't want either of them," – "Well you've got to have one," – "It's not fair, they were on my side last time."

Explaining his reasons for founding "New Labour", Tony Blair stated he never again wanted to see the party receive the vote it got in the 1983 election. But at the moment it looks like the 8 million votes it got that year is a height it can only aspire to. So if Brown departs, maybe one candidate who should consider standing for leader is Michael Foot. At least his conference speech would go, "Yes, aha, now, Georgia, well some of you don't remember Suez, well this Cameron chap, as Ophelia might have put it, seeks the wind, is that right, it was the same with Neville Chamberlain," and most people would say, "It's certainly an improvement."

Never again, the idea went, would the party go into an election with ideas that were clearly a minority view in the country. Yet every possible contender for leader still backs the Iraq war, and no one who opposed it from the start will be allowed near the contest. Or to put it another way, the 11 years of New Labour government were summed up by the cricket commentary on Test Match Special. A commentator was complaining about the rigorous security at the ground, as it had taken 45 minutes to get in.

Then suddenly up popped the voice of Geoff Boycott, saying "You've Tony Blair to thank for that." "I'm sorry," said the first commentator. "He was told," said Geoffrey, "that if he went around causing wars there'd be an increased risk of terrorism, but he took no notice, he thought he knew best." You could feel the BBC governors shrieking, "Shut him up – tell him he couldn't play fast bowling or something," but Geoffrey was adamant.

So there we are – back in 1997 none of us, not the most cynical, realised that a New Labour government would end up being chastised for being too pro-war and pro-America, on Test Match Special by Geoffrey bloody Boycott. No wonder they're shafted.