What’s the cause of that facial expression?

The dominance of New Labour over the Labour Party in the UK has been shattered by two major events. First, the May elections, in which they proved that they had no better idea on how to win an election than anyone else. (Admittedly, Ed Miliband wasn’t a typical Blairite and had some quirks, but he did support austerity and ran an election campaign that was textbook New Labour.) The second was the decision by Labour’s post-election interim leadership to abstain from voting on a welfare cuts bill. Either of these events alone could have been survivable, just as New Labour survived the Iraq War and the many scandals of Tony Blair’s last years in office. Both, however, were not, and have triggered a surprise surge in favor of an actual progressive leftist, Jeremy Corbyn, to lead the party. To Blairites, this is an absolute calamity. The pitch of New Labour going back to the 1990s was that (a) New Labour could win while Old Labour couldn’t, and (b) New Labour shared the same values as Old Labour, but just preferred newer, more sophisticated methods of advancing them. Suddenly, tons of Labour members find themselves doubting both of these assertions, so New Labour found itself needing a New case and a New spokesman to give the party-within-a-party a New direction. So naturally, they turned to the freshest, newest, most innovative leader they can muster: Tony Blair.

Blair’s pitch in The Guardian is quite interesting by what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t reference either of the key events that have led to a revolt against New Labour. Needless to say, the Iraq War and Blair’s postwar career of helping dictatorial regimes improve their image are similarly not addressed. Blair smartly acknowledges his controversial status in the actual headline, which is a solid hook, but the article offers little new data or argumentation. It does, however, contain this bizarre threat:

If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation. If he wins the leadership, the public will at first be amused, bemused and even intrigued. But as the years roll on, as Tory policies bite and the need for an effective opposition mounts – and oppositions are only effective if they stand a hope of winning – the public mood will turn to anger. They will seek to punish us. They will see themselves as victims not only of the Tory government but of our self-indulgence.

This is actually quite audacious: Blair is claiming a negative-sum theory of politics, in which Tory policies make their party less popular, which winds up making the Labour Party even less popular because its leader is unelectable and therefore incapable of effective opposition. Some might argue that a leader that actually opposes the policies of the other side might be a more effective opposition leader, but whatever. Woo hoo, Daschle and Gephardt forever! Never disagreeing with the other side can see your party go from running the Senate to having a ten seat deficit in four short years, and simultaneously multiplying its House deficit by a factor of ten. Traditionally, in two party systems, one party becoming less popular gives the other party another hearing, and in spite of what the pundits predicted, the UK outside of Scotland is just as much a two-party state as it ever was, given the flattening of the Liberal Democrats and the failure of UKIP to win more than a single seat. Given this, though, Blair argues that the Labour Party will suffer a logic-defying voter apocalypse for the crime of not picking a leader that Tony Blair deems electable. It may well be that Corbyn is unelectable at the present (though so was Barry Goldwater in 1964, and from his supporters’ perspective they were not wrong to back him), but Blair fails to offer an affirmative case for New Labour on substance. He merely tries to scare people into continuing to support them, a cycle that continues to play out to Corbyn’s advantage, as the latter has gotten great mileage out of his hopeful message. All Blair has to offer them are the eternal history lessons and dubious predictions of doom. Perhaps it is time he took a page from his good buddy George and retired from the political arena, and who knows? In a few years, perhaps he too can stop being hated, and instead merely become a subject of ironic fascination.

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  1. lumpkin says:

    >>>What’s the cause of that facial expression?<<<

    Well, I think that Mrs. Blair is doing the best she can to put a happy face on what has to be a tragic situation for her. How many people besides Mrs. Bush and Cheney are married to one of the three biggest war criminals of the early 21st century? Season's greetings, indeed!

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