You can’t steal the Tories’ political clothes.
Future historians will see the 2010 UK General Election as the moment the ‘British’ Labour Party died, poisoned to its core by the ‘New Labour’ experiment. Gordon Brown’s catastrophic loss may not have translated immediately into a Tory majority, but that was only a matter of time.
The poison had been slow but nobody in Labour seemed to recognise what was happening as the gangrene turned black and pussy. Tony Blair didn’t win the 1997 General Election; the Tories connived and corrupted their way out of power, and an electorate, utterly sick of almost two decades of self-serving lies and destruction of the fabric of the ‘nation’ threw them out. Quite honestly they’d as likely have voted in the Three Amigos, complete with embroidered chaps and ten-gallon hats, as a triad of Tory-Liters led by Blair, all with uniform suits that cost even more than the real Tories’ ones.
Gordon Brown’s catastrophe was just the moment when everyone realised the awful truth: there was no further point to Labour at all. Ed Milliband spent years trying to persuade everyone that he could win a General Election, but he was doomed to ignominious failure. Not because he was an awful leader, or at least, not only because of that; but because Labour is now unelectable.
It’s easy to see why. The relentless sliming of Tony Blair and his incessant push towards the right disembowelled any notion of principle or purpose the party ever had. Labour always struggled to be elected, but its strongest suit was its social conscience. In the past, when people suffered, the British electorate (as it was then) voted Labour to put an end to Tories helping themselves. That’s how we got the National Health Service.
You can’t beat the Tories at their own game. They wrote the rule book. Well, actually, they didn’t, it was Niccolo Machiavelli and it’s called ‘The Prince’. Read it some time. It will explain everything you need to know about how the Tory mind works: grab and hold on to power any way we can, to make ourselves rich. That’s what Toryism is. It’s not hindered by baggage such as principles.
And because of that, trying to steal its clothes is a total waste of time. All you end up with is a bunch of worn out rags from Oxfam when you thought you’d just blagged some Savile Row. And the next thing you know, here’s the Tories, elbowing their way to the trough again, wearing brand new suits that look remarkably like the ones you just bought.
Yet that is what Labour, under the surpassingly short-sighted leadership of Blair, Brown and Mandelson, tried to do, aided and abetted by hired help like Alistair Campbell and John McTernan, the orchestrator of ‘Scottish’ Labour’s defenestration this year. You can’t help but think these goons were being paid too much — and still are, in McTernan’s case.
You can’t out-Tory the Tories. You either wait for them to make themselves unelectable, or you come up with that anathema to Blairism, a principled position to challenge them. There’s no point in trying to challenge them on the right; everybody knows it’s a con. New Labour can chatter on as much as it likes about fiscal responsibility and you know what? It won’t make a damn bit of difference, because no Labour voter wants austerity in the first place, and the Tories know it’s a ruse. And the consequence of all this Tory-Lite centrism, designed to pick up Tory voters, is that Labour voters have stopped going to the polls.
Why should they? Labour — in any meaningful sense — no longer exists. Blairite UK Labour made the exact same mistake in England as it did in Scotland: it just assumed its ‘core vote’ would put up with anything. It was wrong in Scotland and it is wrong in England. Unless Labour is radical, it is unelectable. It’s that simple. It has to actually appeal to its natural voters, and the more it woos blimps and blue-rinses, the more it repels the core vote.
You have to enthuse a popular support. It takes dedication, hard work and passion but absolutely most of all, it demands that you have something to enthuse people about, and a leader capable of doing it.
Labour has to abandon the blimps and blue rinses, the get-rich-quick barrow boys and self-serving bankers, and stand up what it was invented to stand up for — ordinary people and their rights.
But here’s a thing: the UK electoral system automatically favours two large parties. So the non-Tory vote will not fracture into a multiplicity of parties if Labour should collapse; it will remain essentially a two-party system. The only two parties (leaving aside Scotland) that these could be are the Tories and Labour.
Absent the SNP deciding to contest seats in England (which they could; and that would put the cat in with the doos) Labour still has a choice: to be a perpetual party of opposition, drained of any life, like Banquo’s ghost, providing spurious legitimacy for a permanent Tory dictatorship, or it must reinvent itself as a populist and popular party of the Left, committed to radical reform of the economy, a reversal of privatisation, abolition of the Lords, constitutional reform, protection for workers and so much more that it has abandoned in its rush to become the new Tories.
This is the tactic that the SNP in Scotland, Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece and may others have used and are using to upset the comfortable political status quo. The quicker Labour realises it must abandon its Tory-Lite fantasy and get back to the hard work of real politics, the quicker it will have a chance of breaking out of an otherwise vicious cycle of collapse.
The only person who can save Labour’s sorry ass now, is Jeremy Corbyn. And you only have to look at the reaction from the Tory-Lite wing to see that he might actually get the chance. Bookmakers have already begun paying out on bets that he will become leader, weeks before the ballot results are to be announced. That is unprecedented.
So much the better. Labour needs to understand right now that no matter who it puts in the driving seat it will not win a majority in 2020. But only under Corbyn might it possibly hope to repeat the trick the SNP pulled off in Scotland (and which the Labour Scottish Branch so miserably failed and fails to replicate) and build a mass party of grass-roots enthusiasts. The only way it can do this is by enthusing the Left and the young. Only Corbyn can do this.
Furthermore, only under Corbyn could a deal be worked out with the SNP to maintain a Labour Government.
And, should it be elected, Labour must actually deliver: this will be a one-time only chance to save the party and if they go back to the old ways of promising the Earth and delivering a barrow load of infill, there won’t be another. Electors are savvy now and they have the Internet in their pockets. The old certainties are gone, and lies and broken promises will be remembered.
The almost certain immediate result of Corbyn’s election result will be that a number of high-profile Tory-Liters will try to mount a palace coup and when that fails, go off in a huff and start their own party, as did the so-called SDP over thirty years ago. And just like their utterly failed predecessor, this new breakaway group will, after a year or two of abject failure, join forces with the Liberals, who have no principles to worry about; they’ll suck anyone’s cock if they think it might get them a Cabinet position or two. (Not that I have any objection to fellatio, you understand; but it’s an activity better suited to the bedroom than public life.)
And that will be the epitaph of Blairism; soon it will be forgotten, just like the names of the Gang of Four that led the breakaway SDP split. I’m not even going to look them up; and that is what is going to happen to the Tory-Lite, New Labour Blairites.
Jeremy Corbyn will likely even gain a seat or two back in Scotland, though the wind has changed too far to reverse the SNP’s domination for a long while yet.
Also published on Medium.