Adam O’Sullivan

Naked Politics Blogger 

It was 20 years ago today since Tony Blair became prime minister in a landslide. This electoral success is not something to be ignored. But Tony Blair’s bizarre and unwanted return to politics is devaluing the general election.

Labour’s former leader and the last elected Labour PM, Tony Blair last week advocated Brexit-centric tactical voting in order to ensure that the inevitable Tory government is not given a “blank cheque” in Brexit negotiations. This unprecedented intervention is eroding the democratic process and is diverting the debate away from a number of other prominent social crises affecting Britain.

Blair and a number of other prominent New Labour figures have made no secret of their disdain for Corbyn’s leadership as it is seen as a fundamental challenge to the values of New Labour. To make the upcoming election solely about Brexit is to ignore the crucial issues that face ordinary people throughout Britain, and to deny these people the opportunity to address them through the democratic system and vote for an alternative government. Social care, housing and household bills are the prominent issues on the doorstep, which Blair, the architect of Sure Start and the National Minimum Wage, is reducing to secondary debates whilst offering support to pro-European conservatives with whom his common ground boils down to one issue.

At a time when party grandees would traditionally be expected to throw their weight behind the manifesto, making the case for Labour as the only viable government for progressive change, Blair’s intervention is deeply unhelpful and damaging to Labour’s campaign, ignoring the legacy of New Labour and abandoning those who have consistently campaigned for Labour governments, to whom Tony Blair owes a debt of gratitude for his three election victories.The alternative presented by the Labour Party is not one supported only by a select few hard-left activists, it is the primary opposition party in the UK, making it the only legitimate alternative to a Conservative government.

Labour’s current policy blitz has committed a future Labour government to outlawing zero-hour contracts, addressing the issues surrounding bad landlords and strengthening workers rights. These are popular policies, that have only become more so since the financial crash and in the current climate of the housing crisis, and yet they would be vastly more effective if prominent elders of the Labour Party were to lend their support.

Labour has gone through many iterations, and whilst the Corbyn-era is surely the most divisive, the election campaign has traditionally been one where factionalism is replaced with unity, where Labour can position itself as a big-tent party with healthy differences of opinion but ultimately the same desire for social justice. This is essential if we are to address the chronic inequality and social immobility which has been ignored by successive governments.

Rather than abandoning party allegiances, an election is a time when party politics is most important. The nation should have an opportunity to decide which party should form a government on not just one issue, but on a range of issues.

May’s snap election, aside from being an unnecessary farce, has come at a time when a wounded Labour Party is critically underprepared. It was a tactical masterstroke which may threaten not just the existence of Labour, but of an official opposition that can hold the government to account at a critical time for the future of Britain.  If the opposition is not given the time to put together a coherent and costed program of policies to take to the country then the election will quickly become a coronation.

Hopefully the general election campaign will become a meaningful debate about a range of issues and hopefully voters will be able to go to the voting booth with the genuine alternative which is essential for a functioning democracy. But so far, this has not been the case. Twenty years on from Blair’s general election landslide one could argue that the plight of the Labour Party with Corbyn as a leader is an indictment of New Labour. But with all the immense positives to be taken from Blair’s era, there are some clear negatives, and twenty years on the indictment of New Labour is that its architects are no longer fighting for a Labour government. Twenty years on Blair is unprincipled, disloyal and unscrupulously interfering with democratic process to protect his own shaky, neo-liberalist legacy.

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Last Update: April 27, 2018