Sorry, Tony: 'new' is no longer sexy

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

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

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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'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
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