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?