Podcast Ep. 70: Tony ‘The Bear’ Blair Launches Brexit Reunion Tour

Right Dishonourable 70 Tony Blair

With Tony Blair urging the people to “rise up” against Brexit, Labour MP Diane Abbott complaining about bigoted online abuse, and PewDiePie accused of anti-Semitism, it’s been an uproarious week in politics.

Joining us to chew this over are the ladies of DAS Podcast, Ruby Pabani and Charlie Brades-Price, whose excellent periodical podcast sees feminism take on the likes of beauty, pregnancy and the Internet.

Image credit – Tony Blair by World Travel and Tourism Council

Podcast Ep. 57: Ukip Fisticuffs, Theresa May’s Great Turn and the Grovelling Donald

Nigel Farage Ukip punchup

With half of us fighting the fag end of a cold, we return to discuss some literal Ukip in-fighting, the political turning of Theresa May’s Tories, a threatened return of Tony Blair and this week’s American presidential debate.

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Tony Blair talks Jeremy Corbyn, George Bush’s humility and the failed standup career

Tony Blair, November 2012 by Chatham House

The shadow of Tony Blair is longer than that of any living British politician, the two-and-a-half term Labour prime minister now one of the most reviled and admired characters in Westminster and beyond.

But with much debate about him linked to his disputed status as a “war criminal”, it is fascinating to hear a different side of him in this interview with the comedian Matt Forde, a former Labour aide.

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Blair named ‘best’ Labour chief in 30yrs among loyalists and defectors as Corbyn victory nears

Tony Blair, October 2009 by Center for American Progress

Former prime minister and hated “war criminal” Tony Blair is considered the best Labour leader for the last 30 years among Labour voters who both stuck with or abandoned the party at the general election in May, despite the expected leadership victory of hard leftist Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday.

Voters who had picked Labour in 2010 told pollster Michael Ashcroft that Blair had done the best job of representing the whole country, attracting voters outside of Labour and offering competent leadership out of leaders since 1985, beating Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown, John Smith and Neil Kinnock.

Smith, who died of a heart attack in May 1994, was however seen as a better representative of Labour’s values.

Question: From what you remember or have heard, who would you say was the best leader of the Labour Party in the last 30 years?

Best Labour leader from party supporters, Michael Ashcroft in August 2015

Note: “All voters” included results from poll of general UK adult populace, including Labour and non-Labour voters.

Labour leader ratings from 1985 by Michael Ashcroft

Source: Project Red Dawn by Michael Ashcroft

The findings from online polls and focus groups taken throughout August and September suggest that the hunger for an heir to Blair in the Labour party remains, though the Labour leadership candidate with the best claim to that mantle, Liz Kendall, looks set to come last when the results are revealed this Saturday.

Commenting on Blair’s enduring popularity, Ashcroft said:

“First, [the respondents] regarded him as a strong, capable, convincing leader. Next, they understood what he was trying to do and, crucially, they believed that he understood them. As a result, they felt that the Labour Party under Blair’s leadership had an agenda which combined fairness and decency with respect for enterprise and hard work.”

Asked why Blair was so favoured a focus group attendee said: “The feeling with Blair was that you got the best of both worlds – still a capitalist society but fairer and more socially oriented.”

Another person argued that New Labour would “look after the middle class and business too”, whilst a further one pointed out that some businessmen “work hard and struggle” – a view captured in the so-called “Essex Man” of “aspirational” working class voters which Blair worked so hard to court.

One focus group member said that Blair did not seem like “some weird public schoolboy”, an ironic comment given that Blair boarded at Fettes College, a fee-paying school outside of Edinburgh that is among the most privileged in the country.

(Non-Brits are advised that the British refer to fee-paying schools as both private and public, whilst free schools are known as state schools. Which is helpful.)

Full details of Ashcroft’s research can be found on the pollster’s website.

Image Credit – Tony Blair, October 2009 by Center for American Progress

If Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t win the leadership, what exactly is the point of Labour?

Jeremy Corbyn, No More War at Parliament Square, August 2014, Garry Knight

So much for Jeremy Corbyn being the joke candidate at the Labour leadership election.

Ever since The Right Dishonourable dismissed his chances of even securing enough nominations to appear on the ballot paper the MP for Islington North has trounced every expectation: securing support from more Labour constituencies than any other candidate, being backed by trade union Unite, and now polling ahead of every other candidate.

The whine from the Blairites that Labour is making itself unelectable has thus become a howl. Chuka Umunna, the smooth-talking Streatham MP and former leadership contender, went so far as to liken his party to “a petulant child” in an interview on BBC Newsnight. “There is no glory in opposition,” he said. “Ultimately we will betray our people if we don’t get elected.”

Labour’s identity crisis reflects an ongoing feature in the British political system as much as it does the current weakness of the party. Whilst conservatism naturally fits the remit of the protean, managerial modern political party, radicalism of any sort jars with the compromises and mealy-mouthed messaging that New Labour exemplified.

The Iraq War might be the most ostensible reason that many in Labour denounce the legacy of prime minister Tony Blair – the only Labour leader to secure three full terms in office – but for many to the Left of the party New Labour’s collusion with free market capitalism (or in their ominous phrase “neoliberalism”) was the true betrayal of the party’s roots.

They have a point. Parties throughout all democracies morph over time as questions are settled and newer problems arise, but the abandonment of Clause IV, which advocated “common ownership of the means of production”, by Blair in 1995 posed an existential question of Labour that has not been answered: Just why does it exist?

When the party was first formed it was quite clear what its purpose was. The working classes had long been treated as serfs by the patrician class that ruled Britain, unconsulted on political issues and often neglected. Labour changed that, most notably in the wake of the Second World War where Clement Attlee was able to usher in the welfare state as the second Labour prime minister.

Much has changed since then. The shrinking of industry and movement towards the service sector economy has coincided with serious globalisation. As such the unions and working classes that used to sustain Labour were much diminished by the end of the 20th century. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most Britons now see themselves as middle class.

As such Blair’s movement of the party made a deal of sense – arguably he was just responding to the market forces that do a great deal to determine who can be elected in a liberal democracy. But the problem for Labour is not so much its own movement as the response from the opposite benches.

The Tories have not managed to shed their image as “the nasty party”. Quite possibly they never will. But in Cameron and Osborne they have two pragmatic leaders willing to take on the centre ground. Osborne’s faux-adoption of the “living wage” in this year’s budget was one example of this; Cameron’s embrace of gay marriage in the last parliament was another.

This leaves Labour with little room to manoeuvre. Sure, it could do what Liz Kendall wants and throw itself back into Blairism. But its weaker reputation on the economy will surely leave it wanting when faced with a Conservative front bench that, at least by centrist standards, is fairly socially liberal.

After the disaster of Ed Miliband it is understandable the Blairites are lobbying for a return to the centre. Perhaps it might even work to get the party back in power. But whilst that same section of the party jeers at the Labour Left for being a “glorified pressure group”, it should also wonder what the point is of having power after all principle has been abandoned.

Header Image – Jeremy Corbyn, No More War at Parliament Square, August 2014 by Garry Knight