Bhaskar Sunkara on Blair’s Devastation of the Labour Party

The papers and the media have been doing everything they can to attack the left-wing candidates in Labour’s leadership contest and puff the ‘moderates’. That has meant trying to discredit Rebecca Long-Bailey, the ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate. She was the subject of a series of smears and untruths last weekend by the Tory press, in which it was claimed that she and her husband were millionaires and so on. At the same time, the remaining liberal papers, like the I, have been promoting candidates like Lisa Nandy. I’ve just heard someone from the Labour party, speaking on a Radio 4 news programme just now, make a few scornful comments about Long-Bailey. He remarked that it was surprising that Keir Starmer and Nandy were so far ahead, considering that the Corbynites had their hands on the centres of power in the party for three years. He was particularly sneering at Long-Bailey for saying that she gave Corbyn ’10 out of 10′. Corbyn, he stated, had lost three elections. And that was the point where I decided to put fingers to keyboard to make a few comments myself, and correct this fellow’s biased and misleading remarks.

For a start, I think Corbyn did exceedingly well, at least initially. The party had lost much of its membership under Blair and Brown. Corbyn managed to turn this around, so that it became the largest socialist party in Europe. Yes, he did lose three elections. But during one of those elections, even though he lost, he won an enormous number of seats from a  low starting point, so that it marked the most gains by the party in several years. And he did this despite massive opposition. This came from the Parliamentary Labour Party, a sizable number of whom were constantly intriguing against him, threatening coups and mass departures. These were aided by the media, including the increasingly far right and wretched Beeb, which did everything it could to smear and vilify Corbyn and his supporters. And then there was the unrepresentative organisations that pass themselves off as the Jewish establishment. These, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbinate, Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish press, did everything they could to smear Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites simply for making perfectly valid criticisms of Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

And from what I understand, Corbyn did not have his hands on the mechanisms of power. Or not completely. When he was first elected I was told by a friend that Corbyn had left himself in a very weak position by not purging the party bureaucracy. This was based on a piece he’d read in an online magazine. The bureaucracy were all Blairites, and had been expecting to be sacked. But Corbyn retained them, preferring instead to run his campaign from his own constituency office. If this is true, then he made a rod for his own back. It is certainly true that he had to struggle for control of the NEC and the Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, also did his best to undermine and discredit Corbyn at every opportunity. I don’t think any Labour leader could have won elections under these circumstances.

The press and the Labour centre – for whom, read ‘Thatcherite entryists’, are nostalgic for Blair, his neoliberal economic policies of privatisation, including NHS privatisation, and restructuring of the welfare state. New Labour under Blair and Brown was in power for 13 years, from 1997 to 2010. This was because they had the support of the mass media and big business, whom they rewarded with government posts. But their leadership decimated the party itself, and ultimately helped to discredit them.

Bhaskar Sunkara describes how Blair and Brown managed to reduce the party to half its former size in his book The Socialist Manifesto. He writes

The Japanese have a word for looking worse after a haircut: age-otori. Its synonym in English should be Blairism. Despite initial electoral success and some attempts on the margins to solve social issues such as child poverty, Blair and Brown pursued policies that undermined their own social base. When Blair became prime minister in 1997, Labour had four hundred thousand party members. By 2004, it had half that. That year Labour lost 464 seats in local elections. With anger over the party’s privatisation agenda and oversight of the financial crisis, as well as its support for the disastrous Iraq War, Labour was out of power and completely discredited by 2010. (p.209).

Part of the reason Labour lost the north was because, under Blair and Brown, the party ignored its working class base in order to concentrate on winning swing voters and appealing to the middle class. The working class were expected to carry on supporting the party because there was nowhere else for them to go. But that base showed its dissatisfaction by voting for Brexit, and then backing Johnson because he boasted that he was going to ‘get Brexit done’. But Corbyn’s left-wing followers and successors realise this, and are determined to start representing and campaigning for the working class again.

The Blairites, the media and the industry want the Labour party back to where it was – numerically small, and supporting big business and the rich against the working class, the NHS and the welfare state. This is the reason they’re attacking Long-Bailey and the other left-wing candidates, and praising and promoting moderates like Starmer and Nandy. But Blair’s success was only possible because the Tories were even more discredited than he was. And there was no need for his Thatcherite policies. They weren’t particular popular with the electorate at large, and with the massive majority that he won in the year, he could have started putting back real socialism instead. But that would have alienated the Tory voters he was determined to win over, Murdoch and the Tory press, and his backers in business.

Corbyn was defeated, but I don’t believe for a single minute that his policies have been discredited. Rather I think it’s the opposite: Blairism has. And while the Tories now have a massive majority, their policies are destroying the country and its people.

Only a return to traditional, old Labour values and policies will restore it.

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