Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Who is right? Miliband or Blair/Blunkett/Reid & co?

"Labour must search for answers and not merely aspire to be a repository for people’s anger," says Tony Blair's in his recent article in the New Statesman. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/04/labour-must-search-answers-and-not-merely-aspire-be-repository-peoples-anger
His advice has been strongly rejected by Ed Miliband. Blair's former cohorts have been queuing up to agree with Tony: David Blunkett and Dr John Reid [last week], and Tessa Jowell [yesterday] backed up the former PM. But Ed still wants to oppose. Answers on a postcard as to whether Ed is correct to be taking his party ever further to the left or should he be heeding the advice of his former boss?
I do not want to get embroiled in other people's dirty laundry but there is a serious point. Opposition's should oppose - but I find it very irritating when they do not do so constructively.
It is worth reading the New Statesman article [I have done - just as I regularly read the Guardian to get both viewpoints], but here are excerpts:
Blair writes: "The ease with which it [Labour] can settle back into its old territory of defending the status quo, allying itself, even anchoring itself, to the interests that will passionately and often justly oppose what the government is doing, is so apparently rewarding, that the exercise of political will lies not in going there, but in resisting the temptation to go there."

Following last week's fractious debate on welfare, Blair says that Labour must be "the seekers after answers, not the repository for people's anger". He writes: "In the first case, we have to be dispassionate even when the issues arouse great passion. In the second case, we are simple fellow-travellers in sympathy; we are not leaders. And in these times, above all people want leadership". Rather than retreating to its ideological "comfort zone", Blair argues that Labour must remain on "a centre ground that is ultimately both more satisfying and more productive for party and country".

Ed Miliband these last few days has politely told Tony Blair what to do with his advice about the direction of the Labour party. Miliband is clearly heading leftwards. The unarguable statistic is the fact that Labour have opposed every single cut to national spending thse last 3 years. I accept that not all the governments decisions are perfect but knee jerk opposition, without an alternative, is neither constructive opposition nor does it win elections. Tony Blair of all people - who won 3 elections easily - understands this.

Blair goes on to pose seven questions that he says are examples of those Labour must answer if it is to address the need for "fundamental reform of the post-war state". In a sign of how he would have approached last week's debate on welfare differently, he says that the party should look at the "right balance between universal and means-tested help for pensioners" and ask what is "driving the rise in housing benefit spending". He adds: "If it is the absence of housing, how do we build more?" Blair also urges the party to explore how it can focus on "the really hard core of socially excluded families, separating them from those who are just temporarily down on their luck". In 2011, the coalition launched a scheme led by Louise Casey, the former head of Blair's Respect Task Force, aimed at helping England's "120,000 most troubled families".

On public services, Blair says that Labour should ask how it can take "the health and education reforms of the last Labour government to a new level, given the huge improvement in results they brought". Blair has recently praised Michael Gove's free schools as "a great idea" and has accused the teaching unions of obstructing "necessary educational change". In addition, he calls for Labour to explore how "developments around DNA" can help reduce crime and how technology can "cut costs and drive change in our education, health, crime and immigration systems".
Hinting at his frustration at the party's perceived lack of policy development, Blair writes: "There is no need to provide every bit of detail. People don't expect it. But they want to know where we're coming from because that is a clue as to where we would go, if elected." The danger for Labour, he adds, is of "tactical victories that lead to strategic defeats".

The former Labour Prime Minister’s allies aren’t quite so keen to let his New Statesman piece disappear into the party recycling bin just yet. On the Sunday Politics Shows both Tessa Jowell and Dr John Reid  urged the Labour party to change. He said:
‘The important thing to recognise is that as you move from the politics of opposition to the politics of a potential government that you have to be offering solutions and not just criticising the status quo.’

Asked what the evidence was for the centre ground moving left, Reid said:
‘I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Ed Miliband that.’

David Blunkett also pitched in on Sky with his own thoughts, arguing that the party needed to get out and out in the press more. He said:
‘If I have a criticism, it’s that many of my frontbench colleagues – not just the cabinet but junior shadow ministers – aren’t writing and speaking enough. I mean, the idea that every time you write… that it’s seen as a criticism, we are literally going nowhere.
‘So we’ve got to have the confidence to be able to say where we’re going, not just a narrative about what the Government is doing.
The reason the Blairites are so agitated – and it’s not clear whether this was a co-ordinated fightback or not – is that Miliband dismissed Tony Blair’s warning on the centre ground. Reid made that very clear in his interview with Andrew Neil. Never mind the list of questions: Blair’s piece was a direct rebuttal of the claim that Miliband has been making for months that he believes the location of the centre ground is changing. They do not agree with him, and fear that failing to heed the advice of a man who knows a thing or two about changing a party’s electoral fortunes could cost Labour a 2015 victory.
Not my words - that's the commentary from the New Statesman once more - which by the way was the only left of centre magazine to back Ed for the leadership. We live in interesting times.