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

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.



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