Red Alert

Politicians generally prefer to fight the last battle rather than the next one. The invasion of Iraq was a response to the first Gulf War. The failure to attack President Assad was a response to the invasion of Iraq. Current air strikes on IS (itself a result of the previous failures) are trying to make up for that miscalculation. And so on.

The same failing is infecting the Labour Party. Tony Blair was the right answer in 1997. He was up against John Major, whose charisma left the country feeling it was a division of an obscure accountant’s department in a long-forgotten office. Tony had the gab, smiled a lot, was everyone’s chum, was young and modern and clearly still having sex. His policies didn’t stand up to scrutiny, bearing a strange resemblance to those of the party he hoped to replace, but this gave middle England the warm feeling that they could change leaders without rocking the boat. Gordon Brown looked solid in his sums, so why not have a change?

Lefties and even Labour moderates winked at each other as if to say “We get it”. Tony could smile his way into No 10 and when safely inside could throw off his Tory overcoat and start on a more socialist agenda. But he never did. The bland crowd-pleasing guff he was elected on was the real thing. Instead of encouraging industry, building Council Houses, reining in property inflation, taking control of city extravagance, clipping the wings of non-tax-paying multi-nationals or reversing any of Thatcher’s privatisations, he carried on ploughing the Tory furrow. Old Labour principles became old hat, a toxic brand.

The end result was the hideous mess they left behind, now being delicately air-brushed, which ushered in the Conservatives, ready to fulfil their fondest dream and dismantle the Welfare State. But what do the Labour Party bigwigs, along with most political commentators, imagine would sort their sad party out? That Tony Blair. He had the right idea, look at all the elections he won. Someone like that.

However out among the masses there’s a growling noise. Lots of Labour supporters don’t want any more Tory-lite. Why would anyone choose that if they can have authentic Tory policies, red in tooth and claw?  What about left-wing ideals, principles, inspiration? Where to find them in their leadership’s cringing, compromising anxiety not to look too socialist, not to annoy the City, not to make the bankers cross, not to criticise market forces or even whisper the idea of public ownership of essential services?

For Blair the party swallowed its pride and painted itself blue. That won’t work now. There’s a whole generation of people, the real hard-working families, who know that preserving the system that keeps them in zero-hours jobs and rented flats holds out no hope for their future. There’s a new population with an outraged moral sense, who took their votes to the Lib Dems until Nick Clegg spat in their faces, and now need a flag to follow and a leader to be inspired by. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that Jeremy Corbyn is their choice, however slim. They’d rather seize any choice to die on their feet rather than go on living on their knees.

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