Goodbye Mr Milburn. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I am fed up of the media myth about the Blairites.

Gaby Hinsliff has an interesting, if provocative, piece on the Guardian's Comment Is Free. She thinks Labour has "taken the bait on Alan Milburn's coalition role" and mocks the "considered" response of the left ("Well, good riddance to Blairite rubbish, eh?"). Some highlights from her piece:

Right now, the left is too busy behaving like a teenage girl who dumps her loser boyfriend only to react furiously when he goes out with someone else, loudly protesting about how she never fancied him anyway . . . The relevant question should be whether the supposed traitors still have any original, creative thinking left in them -- or whether they are a bunch of broken records, wrung dry by years of Whitehall grind . . . That means working out fast who else is on David Cameron's speed-dial -- Peter Mandelson? Charles Clarke? David Blunkett? James Purnell? -- and whether Labour should get its own offer in first. (Tip: sometimes it shouldn't.) But it would also mean establishing why some of Labour's bigger beasts are wandering off the reservation . . . But it does need Milburn if it seeks to imply that the Labour Party is splitting asunder and its reformist right wing (like it or not, to some swing voters, its electable wing) is deserting the sinking ship.

I would question a lot of this. First, how do you define "creative thinking"? Being right-wing?? And who or what is a "big beast"? James Purnell?? Blunkett, who left the cabinet in disgrace on not one, but two occasions? Mandelson, who may have been the second-most-powerful man in the land until 6 May, but has since become a joke figure? Charles Clarke, who could never muster enough support in the Parliamentary Labour Party to challenge Brown and couldn't even keep hold of his own seat? These people represent the "electable wing" of the party? Really? I mean, really??

I, for one, am fed up with the media myth that suggests the Blairites were the cool dudes in the dull Labour gang, that they were popular and/or adored, and that they single-handedly won general elections for the party. Did anyone ever say to themselves, "I'm voting Labour because of Alan Milburn"? Did people take to the street in protest when Blunkett was sacked from the cabinet? Did the likes of Patricia Hewitt, Geoff Hoon and Stephen Byers help or hinder the Labour re-election effort this year, when they were outed by Channel 4's Dispatches grubbing for cash? And did anyone really doubt that the ultra-Blairites such as Milburn and Hutton were closer to the Tories, in their pro-market, pro-privatisation, pro-rich ideology, than to the Labour Party, new or old?

Call me an unreconstructed, tribal lefty but I can't help but disagree with pretty much everything in Hinsliff's piece. For once, I'm with John Prescott. "Collaborators" might seem a little excessive, but Milburn, Frank Field, John Hutton et al are doing the exact same job for the coalition as the Liberal Democrats: they are providing ideological cover for a regressive Budget and an all-out assault on the public sector.

Here is Ed Miliband's response to the Milburn decision, which he shared with the New Statesman earlier today:

If Alan had asked my advice on whether he should be an adviser to the government on social reform and mobility I would have said it was a bad idea. I think you always have to weigh the influence you can have -- because Alan will have wanted to try and make their policy better -- with the credibility that you give them. I'm afraid that any influence that he might have will be outweighed by the credibility he will give them. He is someone who worked on social mobility, and when you look at what they are doing on housing benefit, on VAT, on council tenancies, tax credits -- the list of public services is very long -- they're certainly not going to promote social mobility. I think that now he has accepted this role, he better speak out against what they are doing on these issues.

Will we hear an anti-Cameron peep from Alan "Pepsico" Milburn? I doubt it.

By the way, on a side note, one of the few refreshing and satisfying aspects of the Labour leadership contest is that all the candidates -- from the "Brownites" Ed Balls and Ed Miliband to the "Blairites" Andy Burnham and David Miliband -- agree that it is time to move on from New Labour, and put Tony Blair and Gordon Brown behind us. Hear, hear!

Oh, and before the New Labour outriders start parachuting into the comment section "below the line" and smugly pointing out that "Tony Blair won three elections", let me add that I don't disagree. But am I expected to believe that Milburn, Blunkett, Byers, Hoon and Hewitt were responsible for them? Am I supposed to forget that Labour, under Blair, shed four million votes between 1997 and 2005? Or ignore the fact that his victories were guaranteed by a combination of a majoritarian, first-past-the-post system with a built-in, pro-Labour bias and a crazed Conservative Party that chose William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard over Kenneth Clarke?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt