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10 March 2010

Iraq, the free market and a clean break for “Next Labour”

Why a new generation of ministers must say sorry.

By James Macintyre

In a report for this week’s magazine, I refer to what you could call “Next Labour” — a generation of ministers determined to drag the party out of the Blair-Brown shadow. There is a bit of detail on a private election-planning meeting at the house of Ed Miliband, Labour’s manifesto co-ordinator, and an interview with Douglas Alexander, the election co-ordinator (who was also present at the gathering).

“We are still behind. But the momentum is with us,” Alexander said. Of the Tories, he said: “The ‘same old Tories’ is not a line: it’s a truth . . . Change is a process, not a destination.”

Alexander, who has been studying Tory manifestos from 2001-2005, added: “What we’ve seen of the Tories’ draft manifesto suggests that they’ve changed the cover, but not the content . . . In 2005, they asked: ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking?’ But they seem still to be thinking what they were thinking.” And then he said, with a smile: “It’s a bit like someone who puts an old pair of flares in the drawer for five years and then gets them out again to see if they’re fashionable.”

Alexander is a leading figure in a new generation of Labour ministers trying to shed some of New Labour’s baggage. Unlike some cabinet ministers, he — along with Ed Miliband — has remained focused throughout the past two turbulent years on fighting for a Labour victory that he believes is still possible. He is part of “Next Labour”, the party’s best hope of renewal: in office, not in opposition.

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To read further, see the magazine, which is out on Thursday. Meanwhile, one footnote. There is, of course, a shadow hanging over the group. If Labour supporters and voters are crying out for a post-Iraq leadership, they will not find one here, as every single current cabinet minister (apart from 56-year-old John Denham) backed the toxic 2003 invasion.

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In order to break away from the Blair-Brown years, this generation will need to find ways to gain real catharsis on the issues that matter. Similarly, though some are privately critical of New Labour’s over-reliance on the City and anti-regulation stance, none of them has fully “come out” in favour of this position.

Aspiring successors to Brown may have to offer the electorate an apology for both of these very different policy areas.