The Daily Toast: Tony Blair On Labour’s Future In The Age of Corbyn

Tony Blair - Labour Leadership - Jeremy Corbyn - Annihilation

The Labour Left may dismiss him as a Red Tory war criminal, but Tony Blair raises some awkward questions about what Labour stands for in the Age of Corbyn

In the Christmas special edition of The Spectator, Tony Blair offers a typically self-aggrandising but (to the Corbynite Left) infuriatingly perceptive take on the challenges facing Labour, and why the emboldened hard Left are not equal to the task before them.

Defending New Labour’s record in government between 1997-2010, Tony Blair writes:

In a society in which fewer and fewer people thought of themselves as traditional working class, we needed to build a new coalition between the aspirant up and coming and the poorest and most disadvantaged. For the task of winning power, the emphasis on the values of community, society, family, compassion and social justice was highly effective.

But for the task of governing, we had to do more than proclaim our values, we had to have the courage and creativity to apply them anew to a changing world and make what counted what worked rather than defending interests or tradition.

That’s the rub: what does Labour stand for in a society where fewer and fewer people  think of themselves as being working class, or attach any real meaning or identity to that label? And specifically, what does the Corbynite Left of the party stand for in this new reality?

Blair points to an uncomfortable truth for Labour. Because few people, other than the Owen Jones romantic Left, still obsess about class. And though economic inequality is very much a real thing, many of us share common tastes in popular culture to an extent which was simply not the case in the 1920s or even the 1950s.

What does social class even mean when thousands of one-percenters listen to the same pop music and partake of traditionally working class interests such as football, and the technological revolution has given the masses the same access to entertainment, culture and travel destinations as the very wealthy? Does class mean anything at all in 2015, besides being a shorthand way to describe a person’s accent? Arguably not.

So what has replaced the issue of class in our public discourse? The answer, of course, is the new obsession with equality. Nebulous and never clearly defined, the Left harp on about equality without ever explaining whether they are referring to equality of opportunity or equality of outcome. But as a crude generalisation, one could say that centrist Labour strives (however badly) for equality of opportunity, while the Corbynite Left dream of a word of total, enforced equality of outcome.

What unites these two warring factions within Labour is the fact that neither side have the first clue about how to use public policy to translate their vision into reality. Centrist Labour is intellectually dead and hasn’t had an original idea since Tony Blair left office, but the rot became particularly bad during the Ed Miliband era. Miliband’s speeches were full of meaningless platitudes and waffle about creating a “fair” Britain, but shockingly free of specific policies or strategies to reshape the country accordingly.

And the emboldened Left are full of spittle-flecked condemnation of the Evil Tories, not to mention the endless, preening virtue-signalling which has become their hallmark. But they offer no solutions either, just a 24/7 Twitter stream of criticism of Tory policy. Want to know what the Corbynites want to do with taxes or welfare? Good luck finding out. Most of them don’t have a clue, and the few that do know won’t say because they know that their real vision for Britain would be hugely unpalatable to the general electorate.

The danger for Labour in failing to stand for an election-winning coalition of voters – as they did when they represented a cohesive working class in the twentieth century – is that others will define Labour to the electorate, and not in a flattering way.

Already, the Conservatives are pushing the message that Labour are the party of welfare, entitlement and anybody who is a net “taker” from society. And what can Labour possibly say to counter this claim, when they can always be found popping up on television to denounce spending cuts without announcing anything amounting to a cohesive plan of their own?

Blair closes his Spectator piece by warning:

Right now we’re in danger of not asking the right questions never mind failing to get the right answers. All of it is about applying values with an open mind; not boasting of our values as a way of avoiding the hard thinking the changing world insists upon.

Unfortunately, even the anti-Corbyn elements of the Labour Party seem utterly unable to grasp this fundamental truth. And too often, it seems that all Labour know how to do is hate the Tories and boast about their own values, rather than identifying solid policies to put them into practice.

Consider how the recent vote on military action in Syria descended into a mudslinging sideshow, with the Corbynite left accusing anyone who disagreed with their pacifist stance of being an Evil Tory warmonger. Or the way that the Labour Party rode to battle against the tax credit changes, the welfare cap and the NHS junior doctors pay dispute, enthusiastically taking up arms against the Conservatives without uttering a word about how they would address very real problems of concern to many British voters.

On these issues and more, Labour currently propose no solutions. While military intervention in Syria may well fail or lead to a worse outcome, no alternative has been clearly outlined – assuming that airy talk about negotiating with ISIS is not to be taken seriously. Ask ten Labour MPs (including the shadow cabinet) what the party proposes to do about welfare or the NHS and you are likely to get fifteen different answers.

In his article, Tony Blair repeatedly argues against focusing on ideology:

Infrastructure, housing, social exclusion – all these challenges require more modernising and less ideological thinking.

But this is misleading. Strong viable governments only come about when there is a coherency and consistency of ideology which informs the policies offered to the electorate. It’s no good just coming up with a basket of pragmatic policies – people rightly see this for what it is: electoral opportunism.

Labour need to pick an ideology, whether it is that of their leader, that of Tony Blair or that of the incoherent band of uncharismatic centrists who currently pass for party heavyweights. And then they need to show the public that real, tangible policies for government can flow through the party, shaped and informed by those ideals. Labour’s credibility is currently so low that opportunistic opposition to individual Conservative policies will deliver them nothing at the ballot box. An alternative platform for government is what’s needed.

And that takes us back to the opening question: who does Labour actually represent in the Age of Corbyn and his sulky centrist antagonists, when nearly everybody with an aspirational bone in their body is abandoning the party?

Jeremy Corbyn - Labour Party - Andrew Marr Show - BBC

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On Class Warfare And Social Engineering

Veteran Labour MP Denis MacShane had a good think, and decided that the way to fix all that ails Britain is to introduce a draconian new method of social engineering. The BBC reports:

Only people on the minimum wage should be allowed to stand for Parliament in 10% of seats to make politics more representative, a Labour MP has said.

Denis MacShane said the backgrounds of MPs from all the main parties at Westminster had become far too narrow.

The backgrounds of MPs had become far too narrow? Seriously? I agree that there is a long way to go until the membership of the House of Commons comes remotely close to mirroring the population at large (if indeed this is even a desirable goal, which is questionable), but to suggest that we are moving backwards is surely pure lunacy? Has there ever been a time (the Blair Boom of 1997 aside) when the Commons has been more representative? And yet MacShane tries to convince us that a decades-long trend is underway, filling the Commons with wealthy landowners at the expense of everyone else.

Now, the BBC’s poor journalism makes it hard to divine exactly what Denis MacShane means. The BBC headline refers to “working class shortlists”, but the article only quotes MacShane advocating the idea that 10% of Parliamentary seats be reserved for those on the minimum wage. Both ideas are dumb, but it would be helpful if the BBC quoted MacShane properly, or at least came clean about what he is actually in favour of.

If a person earns 1p/hour above the minimum wage, would this render them ineligible to run for Parliament in those constituencies with “poverty shortlists”?

How would the Electoral Authority decide which parliamentary constituencies should have the shortlist? Would you select the wealthiest areas of the country, to stick it to all the rich suburbanites in Surrey and Kent, or let the “working man” represent his “own kind” by having the shortlists in traditionally lower-income constituencies such as my hometown of Harlow, Essex?

And if Denis MacShane literally means that 10% of Commons seats should be reserved for people who fall under the nebulous definition of “working class”, how are we going to define that? People on the minimum wage? People who did not go to university? People whose parents did not attend university? People who live in council housing? Does it depend on your accent, perhaps? Would I, as someone who grew up in a single parent household reliant on government benefits, be eligible to run as a “working class” candidate, even though I now earn a good salary?

What a useless contribution to the public debate.

How often do we hear politicians bemoaning the fact that their profession is “unrepresentative”, and expressing the hope that at some point (always indeterminately in the future) less people “like them” will hold the reins of power? Well, MacShane gives it to us again today:

Mr MacShane, an Oxford university graduate who worked as a journalist before becoming MP for Rotherham in 1994, said there needed to be fewer candidates with his kind of background in the future.

Feel free to do your part by resigning now to make way for the pilot scheme.