Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ideological divides in the Labour Party

Tony Blair, in his reply to Tom Watson’s resignation letter, notes:

‘There is no fundamental ideological divide in the Labour party for the first time in 100 years of history.’

Probably the prime minister intends that remark to mean that socialism is finished inside what was once the mass party of the working class.

He’s largely correct in that assertion, although I still hope the size of the vote that Campaign Group challenger John McDonnell secures will come as a bit of a shock to New Labour triumphalists.

But the statement could also be read another way, underlining that there are no significant political differences between Brown and Blair. That is a correct claim also.

So what should we make of Polly Toynbee’s piece in the Guardian today, which outlines what will probably be the Blairite tactics to ward off the Brown challenge?:

‘Expect many more rightwing suggestions, designed to paint Gordon red. Any leadership contest from a New Labourite will turn into a personal grudge fight, inventing differences to hide what is ancient loathing of a "psychologically flawed" man …’

The Blairites cannot have it both ways. Either Brown is ‘New Labour to his fingertips’, as they have until now insisted, or he is a closet Nye Bevan. One or the other.

What’s more, pushing the crackpot idea that Gordon is a bit of a leftie on the quiet could just backfire massively. Brown’s private reassurances to union leaders that he will be ever so slightly more trade union friendly than Blair is a key part of his appeal, and having the Blairites stress that might even help.

However you want to slice, the Blair era is dead. The tragedy is, New Labourism lives on.

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