The Blairafter

There was a time when democratic debate in the Labour Party was held up as compensation for the lack of constitutional control over a powerful executive.

June 1, 2007
3 min read


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute.

This was never a very convincing argument. Now we face a situation in which executive power rides higher and higher and we are without even the weak antidote of Labour Party democracy.

Red Pepper has never put its faith in the Labour Party as a reliable instrument of change. But the attempt by New Labour to engineer an anointment of a successor to a disgraced prime minister – and a successor complicit, however disingenuously, in all his predecessors’ ignominy – dashes any notion that the party is even a source of democratic pressure.

John McDonnell’s courageous attempt to force an election is more important for igniting discussion at the grassroots than its impact on national politics. The deputy leadership candidate who has any relevance beyond the Westminster bubble is Jon Cruddas. He writes that New Labour has so deserted working class people that it will lose the next election if it persists in its pursuit of a mythical ‘middle England’. Ruth Lister reinforces the point in her assessment of the government’s approach to poverty and inequality, concluding that Blair’s refusal to tackle inequality is unforgivable.

Underlying these features of Blairism, or Blatcherism as we called it in 1997, is an attitude to electoral politics that empties it of democratic content. Not only is any commitment to tackling inequality subordinated to misprioritised electoral tactics. So too is democratic debate and the right to dissent.

Of course this did not begin with Blair. Stewards at a Kinnock rally in 1987, for example, stopped a friend and myself from carrying a copy of the New Statesman with us. ‘You can only bring Labour Party literature in here,’ they told us. This was just a whiff of a wholesale surgery on the political pluralism that made the Labour Party – warts and all – some kind of force for democracy.

But as John Milton insisted in his historic but still pertinent plea for free speech: ‘Much argument, much writing, many opinions is but knowledge in the making.’ A party without argument produces a political culture that can’t tell the difference between truth and lies.

This, argues Anthony Arblaster, is the main legacy of Blair. And it will take more than Brown’s shift in style and rhetoric to create a culture of honest argument and with it the knowledge of what needs to be done to create a society in which the fulfillment of each is the fulfillment of all.


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram