by Tobias Phibbs
Friday, 6
August 2021
Reaction
15:54

Running back to Tony Blair won’t cut it, Keir

The Labour leader's latest call to embrace the Blair era won't save him
by Tobias Phibbs
Credit: Getty

Introspection is what Labour does best, and so it should come as no surprise that Keir Starmer has started another round of it by invoking the legacy of Tony Blair. Vowing to “turn the party inside out”, he wants to take the radical step of “proudly reminding” the people how great the Blair era was.

Not only do these remarks showcase the dearth of imagination at the heart of the party, but also how self-obsessed it has become. Instead of “talking to the country” as Starmer suggests the Party should do, most of the interview centres on the re-litigation of Labour’s own legacy, which has become a central part of its dysfunction.

In Labour, anyone to the Left of Burnham is a ‘Trot’, anyone to the Right of Corbyn is a Blairite, and it is hard to know which side is more tedious. ‘Blairism’, ‘Brownism’, ‘Corbynism’, ‘the soft Left’ — these are not real traditions, they are just symbols Labour’s factions use to play-act their tedious spectacle.

That Labour is stuck in this endless loop is a consequence of its fundamental emptiness: it has run out of road and lost its reason to exist. And, as Baudrillard put it, “When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation of myths of origin and signs of reality.”

We know how this particular subplot goes. The Labour Right will talk about ‘electability’ while the Left opt for ‘principle’. The ‘soft Left’, meanwhile, sit in the corner wringing their hands and exclaiming that we need to be both ‘radical’ and ‘pragmatic’.

But for all the vacuous soundbites (“stepping up to the plate,” “set out the change we want to see for this country”, “we’ve got to get real”) wheeled out by the Labour leader in this FT interview, the legacy of New Labour is all too real. Continued deindustrialisation; the expansion of higher education and the emergence of an insecure, radicalised graduate class shut out of housing, with no attention paid to the 50% who don’t study at university; the outsourcing of much of our state capacity to wasteful consultants; growing dependence on China; immigration on a scale radically removed from anything this country had experienced before in its long history; a supine foreign policy establishment which contributed to the destabilisation of the Middle East.

On these areas of Tony Blair’s legacy Keir Starmer is silent.

After the Hartlepool by-election disaster, the leader said that “very often, we have been talking to ourselves and not the country.” The answer, he said, was to “face the country.” But when asked what vision he had for said country, he simply repeated once again that it was time to “face the country.” Eventually, when pressed, he spoke using abstract nouns like ‘injustice’ and ‘inequality’. It was a bizarre exchange, and yet, it was curiously emblematic of Labour’s never-ending, joyless doom loop.

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Jon Redman
Jon Redman
10 months ago

I enjoyed that. Nothing sets me up for the weekend better than reading about how hopeless Labour’s situation is.
It’s also great to see that Lord Lucan is now writing for UnHerd.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jon Redman
Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I’m also impressed with this chap’s moustaches – don’t see enough of them these days.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
10 months ago

Labour is basically two tribute bands fighting over the name, with an incompatible conservative religious grouping bolted on as it is to the mutual advantage of all parties. Ian Barton points out below that you may as well go with Blair-ism as the least unelectable of the 3 options.
But isn’t Blair the guy who got bottled off stage at the Women’s Institute 20 years ago? Tobias helpfully reminds us of his achievements since, as others have pointed out. Even the Good Friday Agreement has turned into a pair of ruddy handcuffs.
Blairites dominate much of our social discourse through the media, devolved functions, charities, in fact anywhere that public money can be found in large amounts. They even managed to get a dancing bear on Strictly. Yet it hasn’t won or successfully influenced a democratic vote since 2005. 
His “Not For Profit” (arf) Foundation by it’s own words claims to be embedded in governments the world over. CoVid-19, European Union – there is seemingly no end to the scope of activities this former “Faith” Foundation can perform. 100 staff in Africa alone – I will not speculate on where the money comes from to fund that indulgence, it may depress me further.
Here’s an idea – maybe if the UK had a break from Blair’s politics and media management for a decade or so, we might begin to get nostalgic for it?
I voted for the charlatan in 1997 and view that whole period now as disastrous for the future of the UK and my children. Also a massive kick in the teeth for parents/grandparents that lived and fought, then experienced actual austerity to get the country back on it’s feet. They considered themselves the lucky ones – they survived.
The US/UK special arrangement descended to “Bush’s poodle” on to Obama’s “back of the queue” in less than 15 years via death, disfigurement, long-term disability, ill-equipped troops – an incalculable waste of time and money at terrible human cost; Exhibit A – Afghanistan 2021.
So no, I won’t be going back to it. But thanks for the offer.

David McDowell
David McDowell
10 months ago

Good analysis. The resort to abstract nouns is the big giveaway that he has no plan and no objectives.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
10 months ago

Spot on analysis. I voted for Blair twice. But the more I look back at what he actually did and realise the legacy of it, I am horrified by my naive youthful stupidity.

Julian Rigg
Julian Rigg
10 months ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Does Blair realise how much he is hated or is he that narcessistic?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
10 months ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

There are good arguments for raising the voting age, or perhaps restoring the property-ownership qualification.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
10 months ago

It’s when I miss Thatcher the most.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago

For all his faults, Starmer is right on this one.
As Peter Mandelson likes to recant:
”Lost,Lost,Lost, Blair,Blair, Blair, Lost,Lost,Lost,Lost”
Any idiot can have principles that will never result in change … and maybe that is the very definition of idiocy …

Last edited 10 months ago by Ian Barton
tony deakin
tony deakin
10 months ago

RE: New Labour’s ”shift the dial of the country” remit.
More like it shafting it over when considering the list of long-term intractable problems highlighted above!

Last edited 10 months ago by tony deakin