The Lefties it's OK to love

In this week's NS, the left told us which Tories they love. But is that love reciprocated?

The NS has a cover story: Which Tories is it OK to love? I love my other half, and he's a Tory, but I don't think that's the point of the article. And despite all those pop songs that urge "you gotta love you-self, bay-bee", I don't count either. I shall read the views of the Left-of-centre Great And Good with interest.

Anyway as an act of symmetry, because I love symmetry, I thought I'd return the favour. Which people of the Left do Tories love?

I lack the magazine's institutional reach, so my own "research" didn't involve ringing round the Establishment. Thank God for Twitter, eh! Below are the responses from random twittering Tories, along with my own choices, which are the top three.

George Orwell. Obvious really, but it's not only his prescient warning about totalitarianism that make me a fan. I go back to his essay on politics and the English language -once a month at least, and shudder anew each time I read his instructions about clarity, because despite my best efforts I continue to break them. An essential read for anyone who wants to communicate well, or to deconstruct the communications of those who prefer obfuscation (I've just broken one of his rules). Besides, which Tory doesn't vibrate with recognition at this:

Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse.

When I read that, I'm like that scene in When Harry Met Sally. Yes that one. Yes that's a metaphor. Almost.

Frank Field. Also obvious, I know, but equally deserved. From his fight against Militant in the 80s (in a profile of him in the Independent in 1993, he said his nightmare is "sitting in a smoke-filled room confronted by rows of staring eyes and faces contorted by hatred") to his common-sense advocacy of welfare reform, Field is one of those politicians whose reach extends beyond his actual words: he gives permission for debates to occur, which the elite would often prefer to leave undiscussed. In this sense, he's a gatekeeper: if Frank Field thinks it's acceptable to discuss the human implications of social security policy, then it's OK for the rest of us to air our views too.

Tom Harris. Like Field, Harris refuses to parrot the banalities of the age, which are nearly all to do with a horror of expressing judgement about lifestyles. For this sin, his party has previously overlooked one of its most skilled communicators: if there were any sense in the political ordering, Harris would already be leader of the Scottish Labour party, and not only a candidate for that position. (I only hope that having a Tory declare his political love doesn't do him any harm.) Sometimes it's useful to ask yourself a question: which political opponent would I least like to stand against in an election? Harris is at the top of my list, because he's honest, good-humoured, and kind. One of the good guys.

Here are some responses from Tory Twitterers, one or two of which might surprise you (they did me):

@torypride nominated John Cryer and Gisela Stuart, for their work on the European Referendum Campaign. @botzarelli suggested Dennis Skinner: "disagree with almost everything but he's uncompromising and takes role of MP seriously". I agree. Skinner deserves recognition for his unwavering commitment to the centrality of class as a predictor of outcome, a legitimate hypothesis to which we Conservatives have never quite been able to provide a proper response (there is occasionally a downside to resisting ideology). This thought reminds me of the admiration I have for Nick Cohen, who writes often about class, the forgotten discriminant, as well as tackling head-on both the horrors of clerical fascism and the hypocrisy of those who defend it.

@blondpidge suggested Tony Benn, "because he's a man of great principle". I'm aware of this widespread feeling about Mr Benn. Since we're writing about love, I'll admit only that I share neither the fascination nor the adulation. I prefer him to Caroline Lucas, is about as strong as I'd put it.

Since it's good to learn something new every day, I was pleased to read about Sir Roger Douglas, nominated by @Stuart_Barrow, who also reminded me of how much we owe Chris Smith. As Stuart puts it, we owe Lord Smith a lot for taking a stand and coming out "decades before some on our side grew a spine".

Finally, and I wonder if this will please him, big Twitter Tory-love goes out to John Prescott, from @jwgsharp, who writes that despite disagreeing with the politics, Prescott's "background, strong beliefs", and the fact that he "sent his kids to the school allocated to them. No banging on about Comps and sending to selective or private school", all impress him.

Reading the list again, there's something obvious to see, I think. Regardless of our affiliation, we have attraction to people who articulate the truth as they see it, as clearly as they can, and who hold fast to their principles regardless of the vagaries of political fashion, or how unpopular this leaves them in the meantime.

They are also largely politicians who don't learn how to speak in an inhuman manner, because they're so sure of their principles that they're immune to the fear of "gaffes" (stupid, stupid word) that afflict the less-certain or more career-minded.

Tony Blair, by the way, wasn't suggested by anyone.

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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad