I’m going to cheat a bit with my column this week as it’s the first one after the summer break.
My cheating is to quote at length stuff someone else has written about the merits of New Labour:
‘Looking back to those early years, long before the shadow of Iraq fell across the New Labour project, several thoughts occur to me.
First, how much Tony Blair got right. He was surely right about the need to seize the middle ground and stay there. His decision to rewrite Clause IV … was in retrospect a master stroke … His strategy of promising little and delivering more … was surely vindicated. Likewise his determination to tackle the huge benefit culture (ironically, the new government’s most enduring legacy from the Thatcher decade) and to reform public services, education in particular. And as we contemplate a Tory government, propped up by Liberal Democrats, laying waste to public services, who can say that Blair was mistaken in his desire in his desire to realign politics by bringing the Lib Dems into New Labour’s big tent? Had he succeeded we might not be where we are today.
‘Peter Mandelson … was a man of excellent judgement in every respect, except in relation to his own affairs … His third and final visit to government, in the autumn of 2008, arguably made the difference between mere defeat and annihilation.
‘Hand on heart … I can say that, whatever the disappointments, thirteen years of Labour government made a significant difference to the lives of my least prosperous constituents. Unemployment, especially amongst the young, feel to levels not seen since the early seventies and, as unemployment fell, so did the epidemic of crime and antisocial behaviour that blighted the lives of my poorest constituents.’
Who wrote this assessment of New Labour? Stephen Byers maybe? Alan Milburn?
No, these quotes are from Chris Mullin’s introduction to his newly published third volume of diaries, covering the years 1994-1999.
That’s right, those words are the verdict of Chris Mullin, former Campaign Group member, one-time lieutenant of and editor of key books by Tony Benn, whose previous works include the hard left’s pamphlet guide to running a purge ‘How to Select or Re- Select your MP’.
Chris Mullin claims elsewhere in his introduction that he has ‘a tendency towards pessimism.’ But what shines through in his book is realism about how politics works, and what is achievable, respect for the motives of people he disagrees with, and a deep sense of humanity.
Obviously I’ve quoted the pro-New Labour points above to make a point, and there is considerable criticism of aspects of Blairism as well.
But it is a balanced account.
If you haven’t already bought a copy of ‘A Walk-On Part’ or the two previous volumes you should – they’ll help you come to your own assessment of recent Labour history.
I hope that somewhere Mr Mullin has kept and will publish his pre-1994 diaries so we can understand his role in the Benn insurgency and his journey away from the Hard Left towards a more pragmatic stance. He hints at the causes of this being linked to disillusionment with the Stalinist regime in his wife’s home country of Vietnam but the full story would make interesting reading.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.