Sorry, Tony: 'new' is no longer sexy

Mark Seddon on why Middle England likes Old Labour's ways

Share
Related Topics
AS "New" Labour struggles to recover from its miserable fortnight - amid fears that the left is making gains - I am reminded of the party's favourite slogan: look to the future or risk going back to the past. It is being heard again. The fear at party headquarters is that, unless Blairism prevails, Labour will be plunged into a replay of the internecine war of the early eighties.

There was much that was unattractive about this period: the intolerance, the brinkmanship and the misery meted out to Michael Foot by people who should have known better. But, and this may come as something of a surprise to the newly orthodox (many of whom were on the left in the bad old days), the arguments then were over issues of substance: the future direction of a shell-shocked Labour Party; our relationship with NATO and the Common Market and, of course, whether we should keep the bomb.

Take all of that away and you get court intrigue, a struggle for power without even the figleaf of ideological difference. Which is why I happen to believe Tony Blair when he says that he is "genuinely puzzled" by stories of splits between him and his Chancellor. Neither is a malicious individual, but their lieutenants have been engaged in open warfare as part of the manoeuvrings that characterise any court constructed around the individual rather than the collective. And the broad church that was "Old" Labour, although often wracked by argument, was bound together at least by a shared mission of social justice.

With some of the veneer stripped away, even some of the courtier pundits have begun to reflect that here is a party not at ease with itself. Labour's deputy Leader, John Prescott, who has been strengthened by recent events, has felt emboldened to call for a return to more traditional Labour policies. The big test will be whether he and others are serious in their intent to change direction.

But if Labour is to be reclaimed from the narrow sect who currently have it in their thrall, it is time for some myths to be exploded, among them that the party's name has been changed. It has not. There is no such thing as New Labour, only the Labour Party. "New" is obviously a useful device for a time and it can be used to dish all those who do not subsequently fit in as "Old". But a political movement with deep roots can never surrender to the frippery of ad-men. There are compelling reasons for dropping the "new" - especially now that the National Party of South Africa, which created apartheid, has decided to be known as the New National Party.

Another myth is that Labour was unelectable until Tony Blair became leader. This was exploded last week by Jimmy Reid, the Glasgow Herald columnist and former leader of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders sit-in. Philip Gould, in his Unfinished Revolution, argues that without his own efforts and those of Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair's job would have been even more difficult. But Jimmy Reid took the liberty of looking up some polling figures.

They make fascinating reading. In the month following Labour's defeat and Neil Kinnock's resignation in 1992, the polls showed the following support for Labour: Gallup, 39.5 per cent; ICM, 34 per cent; Mori, 38.5 per cent.

When John Smith took over as leader, he booted out Mandelson and Gould and Labour under his leadership was very much at peace with itself. The public seemed to like Smith's Labour. In June 1994 the polls showed Labour's lead had strengthened dramatically: Gallup,50.5 per cent; ICM, 48 per cent; Mori, 51.5 per cent.

Tragically, John Smith died. Tony Blair was elected Leader in his place and Mandelson and Gould returned. The public liked Tony Blair, too. Yet in the last polls before the general election in May 1997, Labour's support stood at: Gallup, 50.5 per cent; ICM, 48 per cent; Mori, 50.5 per cent. So Smith's Labour Party, without the subsequent bonfire of commitments and the re-writing of history, would have won in 1997.

The de-construction of the "New" Labour myth is essential if we are to finally break away from the corrosive spin culture which has so corrupted politics and infected a substantial section of what has become a courtier press of bag carriers for rival chiefs. The party's own polling, although showing continuing high levels of support for the Government, reflect this malaise. Many voters are now saying that "New" Labour is sleazy and out of touch.

The departure of Peter Mandelson from the government could not have come at more important time.

His spell has been broken and his project has lost its allure. "Old" Labour is becoming popular again, and not just on the committed left.

What says Middle England of the railways? Re-nationalise them, of course! What says middle England of the unions? How do we join? Iraq? What the hell was Blair doing? Ken Livingstone? He's the housewives' favourite. Tony Benn? A much loved elder statesman. And it doesn't stop there.

Mark Seddon is editor of Tribune.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones