The Labour leader's latest call to embrace the Blair era won't save him
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.
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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.