20 years since Tony Blair won a huge Labour victory, the certainties that he ushered in are no longer certain. In my last post I outlined the iron law of Blair: that taking a socially liberal, economically liberal, centrist approach, and moving to where the voters are, is always the best course of action. Brexit broke that iron law. The centrist, socially and economically liberal position (Remain, if anyone is wondering what I am referring to) lost.
Previously it was unthinkable to adopt policies that would harm economic growth and inconvenience the private sector. Blair won three elections with this in mind. David Cameron defeated Labour twice using the same logic. Gordon Brown was seen as incompetent on economic issues and Ed Miliband was seen as too much of a risk.
Now the government is enacting Brexit with all the enthusiasm of Nigel Farage arriving at a traditional boozer following a long treck through an area of metropolitan, independent coffee shops. I cannot think of anything that will be worse for the already anaemic economy and more of a pain in the arse to big business than Brexit. Yet the Tories are hugely popular and cheered on vast swathes of the press and electorate - the same people who thought that Miliband was dangerous for wanting to tax a few mansions.
Not that any of this is of benefit to the Labour Party or its left wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn. In my previous post I talked about the need for radical new ideas. It goes without saying that you need to convince people of the benefit of these ideas. Currently Corbyn is doing a poor job of convincing people to vote for a few Milibandish policies.
If all pans out as everyone expects, Labour will be looking for a new leader 20 years after Blair’s huge victory. Doubtless the iron law of Blair will be invoked. But in the post-Brexit world it no longer applies. Voters have lost faith in social liberalism and economic liberalism. The former because of resentment of immigration and a cultural counter-revolution against tolerance and being nice to people. The latter because of the fall out of the 2008 crash and no one feels better off despite a lot of austerity. I can imagine that a Blair-inspired candidate today would be dismissed as “metropolitan middle class liberal” for standing up for these ideas.
This only leaves moving to where the electorate is and (as the general election is about to prove) the electorate is pretty happy with Brexit and the Tory government. Would a Blair for 2017 move Labour towards the Tory Party’s current position on immigration, Brexit, welfare and a host of other issues? I hope that the party members would prevent this. Not least because it would open the left flank of Labour to a Lib Dem onslaught.
So Labour will once again be faced with a difficult choice about its future.. It is hard to know what sort of party leader I should support. One who shares my values? That involves a lot of compromising, as Thomas Piketty can’t stand for Labour leader because he is French and not an MP. One who will win the next election? That person probably doesn’t exist.
Through the last 20 years I have found out something about myself. The politics that I would like are far to the left of the Overturn Window - or anything that is on offer. I feel that to meet the challenges of the 21st century - climate change, broken capitalism, refugees and automation - we need to be more radical than ever. The world will not be saved by timid alterations around the edges. I am less willing to compromise as the general public cannot see the difference between "Red Ed", Corbyn and myself.
Due to the first past the post system, all left of centre ideologies are locked together into one party and fight over control of it. This has not advanced the cause of any of them. Usually we can live together. But recently we cannot, because there is no clear route forwards. So squabbling has taken the place of progress.
The Labour Party needs compromise and unity. The party is currently weak and divided and this serves no-one. Not the country, the members, or the people who are suffering under Tory rule. We need to desperately to find a way to make peace with ourselves so that the opposition can function. We can still bloody the Tories nose if Labour can be made to work.
So now we at a crossroads. 20 years on from the biggest labour win of my lifetime, and Labour looks further away from government than ever. I'm not willing to compromise, because centrism will not solve the world’s problems, but compromise is what the party needs.
Does this mean I have a future in the party that has defined all my political awareness since I was a child? Maybe the party would be better off without radicals like me in it. Some opposition is better than none and Labour needs to oppose the government, because I fear where 10-15 years of Tory rule could take us.
We can’t go back to Blair, as much as we might like to. Certainly Blair achieved a lot, not least making people hopeful about politics. However, in the post-Brexit world, Labour need something new to win power and to tackle the problems of the country.
20 years on from 1997 gives an opportunity to look back, but we should also look forwards. As Abraham Lincoln said: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.” I take this to mean that we should keep an open mind about the future.