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

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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are