The Left

Where were you? Where were you? Where we you in ’83?

Roy Hattersley has a pop at those in the government, especially the PM, who insist their critics want to return to 1983 and are “fed up with winning”.

It has to be admitted that defenders of the Project make up in affrontery what they lack in probity. Yesterday Tony Blair, who came into parliament supporting nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from the European Community and a massive extension of public ownership, announced that he had “always been on the modernising edge of the party”. Perhaps Dr John Reid will soon claim that he has been Labour all his life. After his statement last week that critics of the government “come together under the banner FWW – Fed-up With Winning”, we can only assume that he will say whatever is convenient at the moment.

There are some of us who fought to win, way back in 1983 – the year to which New Labour supporters always claim their critics wish to return. The extent of that year’s defeat had two causes. One was the insistence that the manifesto contained policies that the nation would never accept – see above: nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from Europe and massive nationalisation. Where did last week’s three critics of the bad old days – John Reid, Stephen Byers and Alan Milburn – stand in 1983? The other reason for that year’s debacle was the defection of the Gang of Four. How many No 10 advisers were SDP candidates who split the anti-Tory vote, therefore defeating sitting Labour MPs? Although I do not share the prime minister’s Christian beliefs, I welcome sinners coming late to repentance. But I have doubts about their claim to a sudden monopoly of virtue.

He’s right. I hope this week that the Blairites are at least capable of engaging with the arguments for a more radical agenda without accusing constructive critics of being ultra-leftists. It surely should not be beyond the Labour leadership to listen to the likes of Hattersley and deal with the issues.

But as Hattersley himself points out, the opponents of Blair have to take their share of the blame for the sterility of debate in the party over the past years:

Those of us who accepted the term old Labour have much to answer for. We embrace the insult less out of sentimentality than because of a mistaken determination not to fight the battle for social democracy on terms laid down by apostates and usurpers. It was a major miscalculation. As a result, we have been caricatured as the sort of people who want to help the developing world by recreating the groundnut scheme.

We should have announced that we are modernisers too, but the changes that we meant to make would be consistent with the social democratic ideal. Because of our failure, the government has consistently got away with intellectually indefensible policies. If you doubt how indefensible they are count how many times this week the champions of the Project will be forced to defend it by abusing its critics.

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