Probably the most recent indicator that New Labour are not so committed to that elusive electability that they seem to keep insisting that Jeremy Corbyn must embrace, is the fact that during the recent leadership election they prevented new members, supporters and affiliates who had previously expressed support for other parties from voting. The basic maths that dictates that they lost the last election and are unlikely to win the next one without the support of voters who cast their ballot for other parties last time seems to have escaped them. However, they seem to have a history of being blinkered in respect of the need to gain and retain supporters.
Following the landslide election of New Labour in 1997 with Blair’s personal promise to “govern in the interest of the many”, the Labour Party began to lose popularity and even managed to shed over half of it’s own membership. In the ’97 manifesto, Blair had boasted of over 400,000 members; a number swelled, no doubt, by those desperate to bring an end to 18 years of Thatcherite policies. Unfortunately for them, by 2007, as New Labour was forging ahead with a neoliberal agenda, membership had fallen to an all time low of 180,000. The rose tinted glasses had also fallen from eyes of the electorate; the 2nd and 3rd Blair victories were taken with a shrinking percentage of the vote (1997–43.2%, 2001–40.7%, 2005–35.2%). If an enterprise was losing market share at this rate, it would be seriously concerned. After all, if you want to fill a bucket with water, first thing to do is stop any leaks, otherwise you are on a hiding to nothing. Incredibly though, New Labour’s strategists seemed to be offering nothing to try to stem the flow. It appeared that New Labour were more committed to destroying the party’s socialist heritage and alienating their core vote than taking on the Tories or even winning elections? According to Ed Miliband, 5m voters were lost by Labour in the Blair years most of whom did not migrate to other parties, they just stopped voting.
One of the first moves of the New Labour’s “government of the many” was financial deregulation; they handed the, snouts in the trough, city fat cats free reign to extract all the wealth they could from the less well off and hive it away to their offshore havens. The finance sector is non-productive, it creates no wealth, it only creams it off. Inequality has rocketed since deregulation. All the way through to the 2008 recession and since, even in these times of so called austerity, the rich have continued to get richer whilst both Tory and Labour insist that “we must live within our means”.
Blair’s Labour had embraced what they called modernisation. What, it seems, was meant by this though was, first to allow the Tory right to dictate the terms of political debate, then to adopt the right wing neoliberal agenda as their own; socialism was old fashioned, adopting free market philosophy was modern. Traditional leftist, and trade unionist parliamentary candidates were ditched in favour of a new professional political class. New Labourites were drawn from what most would consider privileged backgrounds; they appeared be more focussed on their own post parliamentary careers than in any form of democratic socialism. New Labour had become a stepping stone into the higher echelons of big business.
Another big turn-off for voters was, of course, foreign policy. The nation was obviously divided over the Iraq war. The biggest demonstrations ever seen in the UK were mounted in opposition to the invasion. Polls showed a huge split in public opinion. It would surely have been obvious even to Tony Blair that the bigger percentage of those opposed to war would be Labour supporters; he chose, however, to defy not only senior figures within the party and public opinion but also the UN and his decision to join Bush and go to war once again alienated many Labour supporters.
Labour having lost so much ground, the 2010 election produced no overall winner and in the biggest blunder of his political career, Clegg took the Lib Dems into a coalition with the Tories, an act for which they would be severely punished in the following election; their vote plunged from 23% in 2010 to just 8% in 2015. It would be expected that the Labour Party would benefit from this popular rejection of Tory neoliberal policy, New Labour, however, failed to capitalise and managed only a feeble 1% increase in the popular vote. Perhaps the reason that they became so insistent that, in order to win, they must take votes from the Tories was more of an admission that with their political agenda , their was little hope of gaining them from anywhere else.
It would appear that New Labour were happy to lose voters, whether by purging new supporters or, by offering no opposition to the Tories, thereby invoking voter apathy, . The less well off, the disenfranchised and hard done by workers no longer saw the Labour Party as their political voice. New Labour may have embraced the free market and may bleat on about “choice” but it would seem that when it comes to political parties and policies and even to elections, real choice is something to be strictly avoided. Given their way, the electorate would be restricted to a choice between bad and worse.
The resurgent popularity of Labour with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader has seen the right wing of the party go to the most extraordinary lengths to wrest back power. In an incredible act of sabotage they have conspired with the Tory media in undermining not just Corbyn but, at the same time the Labour Party itself. Following his second leadership election win, one of New Labour’s memes has become “he doesn’t have a monopoly on principle” but their willingness to lie and cheat their way back into power seems to go a long way towards demonstrating that maybe he does. They would do well to look back at their own 1997 election manifesto; the one that saw Labour sweep to victory and in which Blair himself said “people are cynical about politics and distrustful of political promises…I want to renew faith in politics through a government that will govern in the interests of the many”.