This past week I was lucky enough to have a ticket for London’s biggest ‘nostalgia’ show.
I had bought it because I wasn’t there the first time around and wanted to experience some of the star power and excitement from all those years ago.
In the end I gave my father-in-law my ticket to Monty Python at the O2 and settled for watching a rerun on Sky.
Much the same story can be said for me attending Monday’s Philip Gould Lecture.
My politically restricted past as a local government officer meant that I had never experienced Tony Blair in his pomp.
In the years that passed since Tony left office it was difficult to see how he would have remained relevant today. Since Blair walked the corridors of Downing Street we have seen global diplomatic challenges, worldwide financial meltdown and at home the nation has changed, probably forever, with an era of austerity which will continue under the next government whatever its political colour.
At least a part of me was going to the lecture on Monday because in the ‘1990s and early ‘2000’s “you weren’t there, man”.’
Just like those septuagenarian comic pioneers plying their trade over at Greenwich I didn’t have a right to expect Tony to have been on top of his game. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Everyone in Church House on Monday knew that there was a charisma to the man which surpasses every politician with a seat at the top table today. The only time I have experienced anything that comes close is with those two giants of the left, Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner. But after seven years since leaving office we now see that charisma, and political nous, without the burden experienced by a leader of having to placate powerful factions and interests who you may not always agree with.
Of course as part of a 20-year retrospective Tony gave us his greatest hits in the shape of all the amazing things a Labour government did in office. But it was his ‘new stuff’, or more accurately ‘getting back to his roots’, that was perhaps most enlightening and undoubtedly most important.
We are living in an age when politics is becoming increasingly polarised.
Since 2010 factions to the extremes of both Labour and Tory parties have become increasingly powerful. Yet he saved some of his most persuasive words for the importance of progressive politics and the need to listen to the British people:
Third way politics begins with an analysis of the world shaped by reality not ideology, not by delusionary thoughts based on how we want the world to be, but by hardheaded examination of the world as it actually is. The same applies to how we interact with people. This has to mean real people. Not the ones you find in the committee room but the ones you find at the bus stop or the bar or the cinema.
The coalition government has undoubtedly delivered a resurgence of ideological policies and initiatives. All too often it has failed, and will continue to fail, because it simply does not listen to the people living in communities up and down the nation.
The world has moved on since those heady days of ‘Cool Britannia’ and of course Ed and Labour should never simply try to be a tribute act to Tony.
There is no doubt, though, that the influences of those evidence-based progressive ideals are the key to delivering the next Labour government.
So the truth is I was never there for those masterful late 1990s conference speeches. Somehow I don’t feel shortchanged. I have a feeling that Tony’s Philip Gould Lecture was more real and more relevant than ever.
Leon Spence is a county councillor and Labour lead for children and young people at Leicestershire county council. He tweets @CllrLeonSpence
Photo: Paul Heartfield
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