Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Time for Labour to stop trashing its own record

‘What is your greatest weakness’? – an idiotic interview question in my view, but nevertheless apparently a popular one. Suggestions for answering it include ‘I’m just too much of a perfectionist/workaholic’ and other lies. Despite the possibility of this question, preparation for a job interview should involve quite a lot of combing through our CVs to find ways to demonstrate our strengths and to show how suitable we are for the job in question. Is anyone likely to appoint you if you spend most of the interview apologising for just how terrible you’ve been in all your other jobs?

One way of looking at the months up to May 2015 is as a big interview for the job of running the country. There are still too many people who seem hung up on answering the ‘weakness’ question rather than identifying the convincing strengths in our record.

Given that New Labour – and Tony Blair – won three general elections and led a government that undoubtedly changed this country for the better, I am not convinced that the message ‘we’re making a break with New Labour’ is necessarily a winner.

Equally, if we do not defend our record in government as a pointer to our ability to govern again, you can be damn sure no one else will. Despite working in Jordan this week, I made the mistake of listening to the Today programme this morning. John Humphrys blithely announced ‘Asbos – it’s generally agreed they didn’t work’. Er John … that is just not true.

Without Labour’s action on anti-social behaviour in government, there would not even have been recognition that many people (and usually those without the wherewithal to move house) were having their lives and communities blighted by the actions of a few. There would not have been successful joint working by councils, housing providers and the police to cut down on vandalism, crack houses and the general terrorising of law-abiding neighbourhoods. There would not have been the other interventions with individuals – drug treatment; education and training opportunities; job support – which only came about because someone was focussed on their behaviour and putting it right. There would not have been an increase in community confidence that comes with the belief that the police and others were taking crime and anti-social behaviour seriously and listening to what local people said they were most concerned about.

In May 2012, I took on some of the common criticisms of Asbos in an article for Progress. The fact that action on anti-social behaviour is withering on the vine now is not the fault of the Labour government. It is the fault of this one: shutting down joint community safety work; withdrawing policing from neighbourhoods; putting in stiffer requirements for the new orders the government are introducing – these are the things that are causing the good work of police, councils and local people to be undermined.

Come on – don’t let John Humphrys get away with it. It is time to get off our knees and stop trashing our own record – there are plenty of others out there willing to do that.


Jacqui Smith is a former home secretary, writes the Monday Politics column for Progress, and tweets @Jacqui_Smith1


Photo: Christiane Wilke

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Jacqui Smith

is a former home secretary and writes the Monday Politics column for Progress


  • Ah, so it’s a qualified defence of Labour’s record. Actually, in reality, just Progess’s idol, Tony Blair, other succesful Labour administrations be they at national or regional level need not apply, especially if they’re left of centre.

  • No it isn’t. Most of us recognise that the less said about Blair the better. But the general force of this article is right. Labour did some very good things while in govt. And all this lot have done is trash the lot. Try the question: “Are you better off now than you were in 2009?”

  • 2010 was the first meaningfully contested General Election since 1992. From September 1992 (when only political obsessives had ever heard of Tony Blair), there had been no need for Labour to fight the three in between, and no point in any one else’s bothering to do so.

    Based on the very consistent polling in the key marginal seats, that normal service is about to be resumed. But without Blairism or the Blairites, the only people anywhere on the political spectrum who truly want David Cameron to win next year, and with the Conservative Party hit even harder than it was in 1997.

    Yet still with about 200 MPs. Like Labour, that is its floor, its guaranteed bare minimum. It is about as many as it can expect any time before 2030, but even so. Next year will also show us where the Lib Dems’ floor is. At least 25 seats, and possibly 30.

    That latter is five times even the most unrealistically extravagant estimate of the number of UKIP MPs. UKIP would not be holding the balance of power even if there were a hung Parliament, which there is not going to be. It may even end up with fewer seats than the Greens, who have a far more concentrated electoral base. UKIP could quite plausibly have no seats whatever, even with over 20 per cent of the vote.

    People who dispute any of this do not understand how First Past The Post works. Complaints about its unfairness are aired for a couple of days after every General Election. They have been so after every one for as long as David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg or Nigel Farage, who is far younger than he appears, can have had any political consciousness. Come the Monday, the world has invariably moved on. So it will be again.

    The story of next year will not be the Labour win itself. Everyone always knew that whoever won in 2010 was bound to lose in 2015, 2020 and 2025, with a proper fight again in 2030.

    No, apart from the fact that the UKIP representative will end the Election Night coverage with no more right to be there than any of half a dozen other people, and quite possibly with less, the story of next year will be the Labour win having stood explicitly against the Blair legacy, by then quite possibly including the findings of the Chilcot Report.

    That, and the extraordinary tenacity of the Lib Dems. Followed, in 2020 and 2025, by easy Labour wins without the slightest suggestion of any “Tory threat” such as is sometimes claimed to be necessary in order to get the Labour vote out.

    No wonder that the old Blairite ghouls, most of whom are retiring and none of whom will ever again hold office, are so anxious to plant toxic matter in the media. The present drivel about Alan Johnson is of the same species.

  • One of the things that really irks me is that Progress, and their fellow travellers have to an extent accepted the Conservative Party narrative on the recession, and go into the election promising to stay within their spending limits, as if that is going to win them a single vote! Labour should be PROUD they brought down waiting lists, built hospitals, rebuilt schools, introduced the national minimum wage, boosted the economy…no, we go around apologising for our ‘toxic legacy’ and wonder why people do not want to vote for us.

  • ‘You are as good as your last act’, an unemployed actor said to his out of work fellow thespian drinking-mate on a Hyde Park bench one frosty November morning.
    ‘Know thyself’, said the other, his Sampson rollup dangling off his brandy-stained lips, trickling smoke into a squinted eye, ‘and know your limitations – don’t make any boasts which you can’t deliver on, the audience don’t take to that…’
    ‘It was early in November, so far as I remember, without murmur or mutter, I lay down in the Gutter, and a Pig came up and lay down by my side. Two Ladies whom were passing were heard to say: ‘You can tell a man who Boozes, by the company that he chooses…’ and the Pig got up and slooowly walked away … ‘.
    Labour will meet its commitment [VOW] to the Scots brothers and sisters even if welchers sidle out of the promise; and Labour doesn’t seek any coalition alliance with any porcine-party who claim they can fly, they will have my vote.
    PS Tony Blair’s last Act was at least an honest performance which didn’t rely on prompts from the PeaNuts galleries – he stood, and still stands on his word. That’s good enough for me, and Mr Blair shall always get my vote – turncoat I aint. Long-hauls take patience.

  • Its great that Tony Blair and New Labour won three general election. The problem I had with New Labour is the Blair Government didn’t change any of the Thatcher policies. The other thing is the PFI which I thought was a very good thing and New Labour could of negotiate a better deal. I do agree that it is time for Labour to stop trashing its own past record which was a good one.

  • The problem is, the Blair government built its record on foundations of TNT.

    All the positives that emerged have been undermined because they were created and funded by an unquestioning ‘light touch’ approach to the socially and economically destructive activities of the financial sector; by encouraging people to saddle themselves with debt instead of fighting for better wages for all, not just the few; by allowing, through PFI, the saddling of the NHS with enough debt that it is in danger of sinking and by not doing its due diligence into free movement in 2005.

    All of these abject failures have allowed the Tory wreckers and to a lesser extent UKIP to gradually dissolve the social goods of this country through being able to fashion the narrative that these things aren’t affordable any more. That is the record of New Labour.

    And yes, New Labour won three elections – but with a loss of five million voters between 1997 and 2005 and a collapse in party membership. And what is the party offering, a Rizla’s difference in policy between Labour and the Tories. Don;t worry Jacqui… New Labour still has policymakers by the balls in this party.

  • Bore off with the constant ‘In defence of New Labour’ posts. This is why nobody likes Progress

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