Dear Ed Miliband,
I used to be a Labour loyalist. With my leftwing convictions hardened by inspiring conversations with my late grandfather, who was a shop steward, a book about the Labour movement by Jeremy Seabrook called What Went Wrong? and the persuasive, intelligent propaganda of Red Wedge, Billy Bragg and the NME, I voted Labour in 1987, and again in 1992 and 1997. I had been a Labour party member in 1992, but cancelled my subscription in a fit of self-destructive pique after the failure of a robust Neil Kinnock to unseat the deeply unimpressive John Major, leading to the Tories’ fourth consecutive victory.
Like many Labour supporters, I saw Tony Blair as a new start – despite the tragic circumstances that led to his election as party leader – and fell for his matey charm and modernising dynamism. When he took New Labour to power in 1997, I was as euphoric as anybody else who’d considered Labour unelectable. The scales soon fell from my eyes.
First there was Bernie Ecclestone. Then tuition fees. And then 9/11, which saw Blair line up right behind the most dangerous American President in history, ready and willing to send British troops to wherever Bush ordered them to be sent. The invasion of Iraq was the flashpoint for a lot of disillusioned, betrayed Labour supporters. To march that day against the war and be roundly ignored was a cosmic slap in the face, not least because Blair had already struck a deal behind the scenes, later verified by the New York Times in the form of a memo written by Blair adviser David Manning after a meeting on January 31, 2003, in which Bush names the date, already set.
Who was this monster we had elected only six years before? New Labour, new danger indeed. When Blair was re-elected in 2005, it wasn’t a victory for New Labour, but a defeat for the dilapidated Tories, who had replaced the unpopular Iain Duncan-Smith with the even less popular and frankly creepy Michael Howard. With a majority reduced over four years from 167 seats to 66, this was Labour exposed as a mess, with the lowest percentage of the popular vote of any majority government in British history.
Tony Blair finally stood down in 2007, a total liability. Gordon Brown, who presided over the economy when times were good, turned out to have booby-trapped it, and the bubble soon burst, taking any shred of Brownite credibility with it, despite his ascension. It was almost as if Blair had waited until the very worst moment to hand the reins of power over to his hated rival. It was a depressing period. I cannot lie: by the time of the 2010 election, I wanted to see the back of Labour. I actively wanted them out of power. I didn’t want the Tories in, and I knew the Liberals couldn’t do it, and when they formed a Coalition, I didn’t know what to think. I hated the fact that my support of Labour had curdled to active opposition, but an optimistic part of me hoped that maybe out of power they would re-group and come back without the “New.”
You, Ed Miliband, beat your brother to the leadership. You were handed the moral high ground on a silver platter. Cameron’s Tories were worse than Thatcher’s. Out of touch, preening, self-serving, a bit thick, lacking in empathy and life experience, and seemingly without passion or ideology, driven only by greed and self-interest. Their shock-doctrine response to the recession was to kick the poor when they were down and punish them for ever claiming a benefit, or taking a part-time job, or having a baby, or being disabled, or getting old. Hey, it was a recession – a recession inherited from Labour! Their hands were tied! If ever there was a time for the new Labour leader to emerge, like a nerd in a Marvel comic, as a superhero, it was now.
I don’t know if you are up to the job, Ed. I sort of need you to be. But something toxic is happening, and you seem to be letting it happen: the return of Tony Blair to Labour politics.
We learn that he is to take his most active part in the Labour party since retiring from frontline politics, contributing ideas and experience to your policy review, “giving advice on the Olympic legacy” and in particular how to “maximise both its economic and its sporting legacies”. Your words. Because Blair was in charge when London won the Olympic bid in 2005, you are now using this to paper over all the ill he caused at the very same time (not least firing up terrorism at home through his gung-ho colonial actions abroad, as evidenced by the horror of the day after we got the Olympic bid that July).
Do you really want Blair to reinforce your chances of election? Have you forgotten what he did to Labour? If I were you, I wouldn’t have even shared a platform with the money-grabbing egotist at the fundraising event at the Emirates stadium (organised by Alastair Campbell, as if to underline its old boys’ reunion party vibe). You were a Brownite, Ed. Sucking up to Blair is not “uniting the tribes,” it’s taking his side. It’s signing up to his “legacy”, which will always be that of a warmonger, not as a Middle East envoy or jet-setting author and after-dinner speaker. (To quote his vocal critic at the Leveson inquiry: “This man should be arrested for war crimes.” Exit, pursued by a bear.)
You praised him publicly, feeding his voracious ego, calling the Olympic bid “one of the many proud achievements of the governments that Tony led”, adding the following proud achievements: “saving the NHS, rebuilding our schools and cutting crime”. Saving the NHS? He pulled its guts out before handing it to the Tories to finish off. He and Brown put “public” and “private” together and made sure that the public sector ended up with a massive bill from the private sector for all its new hospitals and schools. Blair only rebuilt our schools by handing private contractors juicy contracts that the taxpayer would pay for, no matter how high they spiralled.
You again, Ed: “I want to thank Tony for what he did for our party and for our country. And I know how committed he is to Labour winning next time.” Yes, only if he can take some of the glory. Labour will not win next time if you allow Tony Blair anywhere near a platform you’re on.
Your spin doctors have been quick to warn us not to “over-interpret” Blair’s prodigal return to Labour. I call it plain old “interpret”: he’s back, and he’s going to win the next election for you. Except he isn’t. I can’t be the only person who would be physically unable to place a cross next to a party with Tony Blair in it.
Londoners were lucky enough to have Blair “guest-edit” an edition of the London Evening Standard last month. This was clearly the first stepping stone in his return to prominence. He told the paper, “What I can do is contribute to the debate, whether it is Europe or the Arab spring or areas to do with economy and public service reform here.” Of the financial crisis, he said, “My view is that you still, in order to win from the Labour perspective, have to have a strong alliance with business as well as the unions … I understand that some people think the financial crisis has altered everything. And the mood is against this. Personally I don’t think that’s correct.”
Keep your friends close, Mr Miliband, and your enemies at arm’s length. Ideally, keep them outside, in the car park. Tony Blair is not your friend. You do the maths.
A concerned voter