Why Labour should regret Blair’s shafting of Ashdown in 1997
December 28, 2010 § 6 Comments
It’s etched across their faces.
Labour Members of Parliament-and, especially, former Ministers-have still not recovered from the party losing office.
They’d begun to believe that their’s was the ‘natural party of government.’
Perhaps, despite their protestations, they had become so used to ministerial cars and red boxes that they thought they would be in their ownership forever.
Whatever the truth of it, you can tell from many of their public pronouncements that Labour MP’s are still in a kind of shock.
They seem to be opposing many Government policies not because they genuinely are against them but just for the sake of opportunistic party political point scoring.
And Labour’s lacklustre leader, ‘Red’ Ed Miliband has been making overtures to Lib Dem members to join his party;as if we’ve suddenly forgotten about the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, the gap between the richest and poorest in this country growing wider during their time in office, and their demolishing of many of our treasured and long fought for civil liberties, etc.
This all seems a bit desperate on Labour’s behalf.
They rather resemble headless chickens; clinging onto the last vestiges of life, pecking and clucking around without any great purpose or sense of being.
The tragic thing-at least for Labour members-is that this could have all potentially been avoided.
One of my favourite reads has been the memoirs of our former leader-and one of my political heroes-Paddy Ashdown, especially the volume covering the run-up to the 1997 General Election and its aftermath.
In the book Ashdown documents the secret talks between leading Lib Dems, including former party President, Robert Maclennan, and leading Labour members including the late Robin Cook, the former Labour Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons.
At the time it seemed the Labour negotiators-with the support of the party’s then Leader Tony Blair-were genuine and really ‘up-for’ a potential realignment of the Left of British politics…the re-uniting of the Labour/Liberal movements whose split in the early part of the 20th Century largely enabled the Tories to come through the middle and govern for the majority of its years.
Of course there were very loud internal voices against a Left realignment, including from that party heavyweight John Prescott, but the party’s modernisers could see that this could be a great thing…it could have potentially seen the Tories unable to govern again, if everything had panned out.
But then came the election, Labour won a landslide and the talks between the Lib Dems and Labour resulted in nothing, other than a Lib Dem presence for a couple of years on a Cabinet Committee on constitutional reform.
Even despite Labour’s massive majority, if Blair had had the courage of his alleged convictions, he could have still worked with Paddy Ashdown and other Lib Dems to form a Coalition Government.
Just imagine Ashdown as Deputy Prime Minister, Ming Campbell as Foreign Secretary and Charles Kennedy as the Scottish Secretary.
With Lib Dems in government at the time I’m sure some of Labour’s worst ‘crimes’ could and would have been avoided: the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, the various attacks on our hard-won civil liberties, and, yes, the decision to introduce university tuition fees.
But the fact is Blair, despite his modernising rhetoric, did not have the will to take on the party die-hards in his parliamentary ranks (which David Cameron-to his credit-did, with the Tories, thirteen years on) and he dropped like a stone the idea of a historic realignment of the Left of British politics.
Ultimately Blair wasn’t a Kinnock; Neil Kinnock drove the Militant tendency from his party in the 1980’s, making it far more electable. Blair, in a far easier task, wasn’t prepared to take on the likes of Prescott and demand that they fall in line behind a Lib/Lab Coalition.
This might not have seemed like a problem at the time, but-thirteen years on-Labour could still be in office had there been better relations between Labour and the Lib Dems and had more modernisers been sent into the dramatic negotiations in the five days after the General Election in May this year…instead of the likes of that arch-Brownite Ed Balls.
They cannot, with any justification at least, now cry wolf because David Cameron and the Tories did what Labour and Blair failed to do back in 1997.
I believe Coalition Government could become a regular feature of our politics-indeed, I’d welcome it; so, if Labour are to stand any chance of getting back into power they need to stop trying to mock Lib Dem Ministers and coup Lib Dem members and, instead, start enabling better relations ahead of potential negotiations after the next General Election in 2015.
Ed Miliband should set up a working group to this effect-perhaps led by that arch moderniser Lord Mandelson.
Labour has no one to blame for them being out of office but themselves.
Facing up to that may just be the wake-up call they need to kick-start a long journey back to power.