Monday, 10 August 2015

Like Blair? You would be more popular if you took up lion hunting - my Leicester Mercury column

I’m one of those rarest of rare members of the Labour Party, someone who signed up in the later days of Tony Blair.

I had, of course, always voted Labour but political restrictions in my role as a local government officer meant that it was impractical ever to join the party.

As soon as I changed jobs and my restriction was lifted I decided to become a member.

The reason I joined is simple. I could see our New Labour government making people’s lives better.

The Labour government I knew had introduced a minimum wage and tax credits for those working in low paid jobs, it had rebuilt schools and hospitals left to deteriorate by 18 years of Tory control, it had built hundreds of SureStart centres seeking to tackle inequality from birth, it had introduced civil partnerships, for heaven’s sake it had even delivered a winning bid to host the Olympics and made entrance free to world class museums.

If in 1997 Labour’s theme song was D:ream’s ‘Things can only get better’ by the time I joined in the mid 2000’s for countless people in a multitude of ways things indeed had.

Of course, just like any government, Tony Blair and his New Labour team didn’t get everything right. I know many, many decent people had grave reservations about Iraq and I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been told ‘Gordon Brown sold all the gold’ (although few at the time would have questioned the policy of diversifying reserves).

For my money though our nation was better off under a moderate, enterprise friendly socially democratic Labour government than it ever had been under Prime Minister’s Thatcher and Major.

Years have moved on. I’m now 42 years old, and have children nearly old enough to leave school, and the truth is the only Labour government in my lifetime that has ever been electable is the one who reached out to middle England and took seats from the Tories in Kettering, deposing Michael Portillo in Enfield Southgate and capturing my own North West Leicestershire.

Right now, amongst Labour members at least, admitting you like Tony Blair is the worst possible thing you can say. You would be more popular if you took up lion hunting.

But I do like Tony Blair and the current leadership election depresses me.

Every indication is that Jeremy Corbyn, the idealist, rebellious, anti-Blair is going to do very well and that Labour will retreat to its public good, private bad comfort zone.

The truth is that, rather seeking to win them back, we are at risk of ostracizing everyone who voted Tory in May and being in danger of giving up on middle England for at least a generation.

I see many people who desperately need a Labour government I very much hope ideological purists think about what a least 10 more years of opposition will do to those in most need before putting their cross for Corbyn.

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