Why the Blairites must find a new leader

Trying to reconstruct Labour without those who last dragged it from opposition to government would b

The Blairites need a new leader. Actually, we all need the Blairites to find a new leader.

I appreciate that may not be the most popular job advertisement ever promoted by the New Statesman. Many believe the time has come to move beyond Blairism and New Labour. Others view it as a period that should be excised from history while its architect does 50 years for war crimes in Wandsworth nick.

Fair enough. The enduring love of his party was never high on Tony Blair's list of priorities for things to gain, and the Dodgy Dossier and 90-day detention bill were less than alluring billet-doux. But like it or not, Blairism, New Labourism and the whole "modernising agenda" are political strands that remain woven into the fabric of the party.

Those who thought the leadership election had consigned all this to the dustbin were wrong. The fact is that, since Ed's victory, the party hasn't really moved anywhere. That's not another Ed Miliband dig by the way, because even Miliband's most loyal supporters wouldn't argue that he's grabbed Labour by the scruff of the neck and started to drive through a bold new philosophical and political agenda.

Team Ed's pitch is that their man wants to use his time to sit back, assess the landscape, let the policy review programme develop, and within that framework start to construct a new, if not New, Labour prospectus. There are some – I'm one – who are sceptical of that strategy. But it's what we've got, so it's at least worth engaging with on its merits. And any meaningful engagement has to include the Blairites.

Pop-up Peter

The question is: who are they? Or, more precisely, who's their figurehead? Who's running the show?

Actually, let's take a step back. Who shouldn't be running it? Well, for starters, Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell, Tessa Jowell and Blair himself.

Peter popped up at the weekend to urge everyone to vote Yes to AV. Last time he pulled a stunt like that it was to urge everyone to vote for David Miliband, and look how that turned out. Expect a similar result next month.

The Blairite old guard deserve thanks and respect for what they did for their party and their country. Sorry, it's a fact. New Labour ended in failure, but between 1994 and 2001 it had some radical progressive achievements to its name, and those people were the architects.

But their brand is now contaminated, and every time they pop up they just remind people of that final product recall. They need to move on, and they need to be urged to move on not by their critics on the left, but by the new generation on the Labour right. Indeed, the capacity of the younger Blairites to find a new voice, and quieten the noises off, represents their first defining test.

It is a test they must pass quickly, because the window for debate that is opening up in the party will not remain open for ever. Given the premium the Blairites have usually placed on presentation, its ironic that the launch of Purple Labour, their first foray into new territory, has been so poorly managed.

But that's what comes of having a leadership vacuum. And when you have NEC members like Luke Akehurst attacking Progress for being divisive, you know you have serious command-and-control issues.

All smoke and no gunfire?

The Brownite leadership mantle has settled, after a few bumps along the way, on the shoulders of Ed Balls. The liberal left has found a leader in Ed Miliband, even if there have been one or two recent signs of buyer's remorse. In the negotiation that is about to take place over the future direction of the party, the Blairites need to ensure they also have a seat at the table.

David Miliband, prematurely dismissed by many after his defeat, remains a candidate. But he can't wait beyond the water for much longer, and will need to make his case with clarity and conviction.

Jim Murphy has already been identified as one great Blairite hope, and there are worst negatives than his "Scottishness". Douglas Alexander is another candidate, having finally made the break with his Brownite past, though there are some who think his talents are better deployed behind the scenes than front of house. And some still speak wistfully of luring James Purnell back towards the sound of the guns.

There are other candidates that will emerge. And emerge they must, because trying to reconstruct Labour without those who last dragged it from opposition to government would be foolish, and deeply damaging.

Blairism without Blair. We need it. And if anyone can build it, the Blairites can.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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