With Tony Blair understandably defending his own record, CWU members who I represent will think back to their own memories of the New Labour years. In the postal industry, the government artificially created competition which cost thousands of jobs in Royal Mail and pushed it to the brink of collapse. In the telecoms industry New Labour governments spent years fighting against protections for agency workers at EU level and negotiated a loophole in the regulations to deny them equal treatment at work.
With this record in mind, it is no surprise that Tony Blair has felt the need to recast New Labour in a moral light. The Blairites, so he claims, are those with the courage to adhere to values and principles when confronted with the reality of a changing world. Opposition he faced in the party – and by implication, Labour under Corbyn today – are wedded instead to tradition or defending their supporters.
So what are the values he proclaims? The central tenet he cites for his project is this: ‘by our common endeavour we achieve more together than we do alone.’ And by the insertion of this into Clause IV, he says ‘the values part of New Labour was very well articulated.’ Yet even accepting that this statement is a moral principle – and it seems more to me like a statement of fact – it is hard to see what guidance anyone seriously thinking about our country today is meant to derive from this.
It is little wonder that in Blair’s eyes now it ended up licensing everything New Labour did. Iraq, for instance, we are told, was ‘not in defiance of progressive politics but in furtherance of them.’ A vague principle is perhaps as good as no principles at all.
Moreover, there are two telling omissions from the principle Blair proposes. The Labour Party today describes itself as being a democratic socialist party. Yet there is not one mention of the injustice of vast inequalities we see in society today by Blair, or of the need to reform politics and the economy to give people meaningful control over their own lives. If you want to see how these two problems combine, just look at – what is virtually social cleansing – the results of the housing crisis.
And what of the changing world we are confronted with that Labour has to adapt to? While Tony Blair talks about “big data, possibly in time AI”, to working people this shows a dangerous disengagement from the reality they face.
Six million people earn less than a living wage. Almost a million people are on zero hours contracts. And the big innovation we see from companies – from Sports Direct to Amazon – in low paying sectors are not in services for customers, but new forms of insecure employment. The minimum wage, introduced by Blair, rightly at the time, has in many cases become the maximum wage. A party that does not face up to the problems in the world of work would not be worthy of support.
While opposed by Blair, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell understand this. Look behind the headlines and the furore from those still refusing to come to terms with the scale of Jeremy’s victory. They are putting forward concrete policies like rights for the self-employed, to try to stop the race-to-the-bottom we are seeing on employment standards. They are talking about the need for fundamental change in the way we view the role of the state and markets, if the economy is to deliver for all of us – not just the financial sector in London.
While they are dealing with the problems the country faces, Tony Blair is still talking about how many votes David Miliband won in 2010. It is time to move on Tony. The rest of us have.