The British Labour Party must admit its Mistake

The treachery of Tony Blair

It’s always very difficult having to admit you’re wrong, and the more you believe something is right the harder it is accepting it might be wrong. Tom Paine expressed it beautifully a couple of hundred years ago, as he often did: “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom.” (( “Common Sense” by Tom Paine – Introduction.))

Many people in the Labour Party have this problem – an inability to accept they’re wrong about the so-called “New Labour” years, because electoral victories over a decade or so provided the superficial appearance of rightness. These people cannot accept that Blair and Brown inflicted huge damage to our country, and the Labour Party. Even the fact that Margaret Thatcher considered Tony Blair to be the greatest achievement of the Tory Party, and that top Tories such as Cameron and Osborne admire him, cannot shake their blind messianic faith.

The Labour Party recently leapt on a supposed admission by David Cameron that the previous Labour government did not cause the financial crisis of 2008. Anyone with any sense already knew that – the crisis began almost thirty years earlier with Thatcher’s de-regulation of banking and financial services. BUT, the hard inescapable fact for so-called “New Labour” supporters, is that although Blair/Brown didn’t cause the meltdown, they did absolutely nothing to prevent it either; and they had more than ten years in which to do so.

As well as scrapping all the essential safeguards on banking and financial services that led inevitably to the financial catastrophe of 2008, the Tories initiated the iniquitous Private Finance Initiative (PFI), began the mass looting of public utilities, destroyed Britain’s industrial base – the main source of the nation’s wealth, and emasculated the trade union movement. These are some of the things Blair/Brown had almost twelve years to put right. But they not only did absolutely nothing to overturn years of Tory looting, as their voters first expected, they continued it – and then plumbed new depths of looting that not even the Tories attempted. For it was the Blair/Brown government that introduced university tuition fees, increased privatisation-by-stealth of the NHS, and massively increased the state retirement age – for women especially – effectively robbing hundreds of thousands of women of billions of pounds in state pensions. No wonder Thatcher, Cameron, and Osborne were and are such big fans of Blair.

Today the Labour Party needs to acknowledge its mistaken support for the Blair/Brown years, and embrace the attempt by Jeremy Corbyn and John MacDonnell to return Labour to its original socialist values – the same values that defeated Churchill, the “greatest ever” Briton, in the 1945 general election and went on to eliminate unemployment, create the NHS, and provide free state education, council housing and decent old-age pensions.

Sometimes you just have to admit you made a mistake, and supporting Blair and Brown was one huge mistake.

Every Labour Party membership card clearly states the party is a socialist organisation. Therefore people who are not socialists should not be in the Party. There is no reasonable interpretation of the word socialist that explains the policies of Blair/Brown – which is why the Tories so adore them. Britain is a capitalist country. Transforming it into a socialist country, as the Labour Party should and as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell appear to be attempting, is a gargantuan undertaking. It requires a total reversal of direction for almost every part of the British establishment. But as shown in the overwhelming victory by Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election, crushing the Blairite opposition, a huge swathe of rank and file Labour Party members are up for the challenge.

The very marked difference between “New Labour” and Corbyn supporters, best illustrated by the sulky, glowering and sometimes openly hostile majority of Labour Party MPs, is concerning. These people are self-evidently not socialists, and you have to wonder why, with their openly Tory principles, they’re in the Labour Party at all. One possible explanation is that because of their relatively humble backgrounds they could never fashion a career for themselves in a party consisting largely of blue-blood aristocrats and multi-millionaires, so they infiltrate an organisation that’s supposed to champion the cause of the working class instead. Once in parliament they immediately betray their voters by doing the same deals with big business that the Tories have been doing for centuries. How else could the likes of Tony Blair, for example, secure a multi-million pound a year post-parliamentary sinecure with JP Morgan?

Perhaps there needs to be a reckoning. Perhaps the Labour Party needs to purge itself of capitalists. This would not be unreasonable given it’s supposed to be a socialist organisation. Personally I would rather it tried first to win around those who mistakenly admire Blair simply because he won general elections. There are too many Labour Party members who are obsessed with winning elections. Winning is, of course, important, but what’s the point of defeating Tories if you’re not going to scrap their repulsive policies?

I think the central cause Labour needs to focus on is that keyword “socialist”. Britain’s brief and modest flirtation with socialism started with the Attlee government in 1945. The Labour Party under Attlee openly stood for radical socialist reform of Britain. They not only won the 1945 general election, they beat Winston Churchill, the “greatest ever” Briton at the very pinnacle of his political career, and then went on to truly transform Britain. If socialism could do this once, against truly formidable opposition, it could do it again.

Re-education is required. After decades of relentless attacks in the capitalist education system and media, socialism has become almost as reviled in Britain as it is in America. Many normal people automatically dismiss socialism as a “failed” experiment – mainly because of the apparent collapse of the Soviet Union. But the Soviet Union didn’t collapse, it was crushed by decades of unremitting, utterly ruthless capitalism. The basic economic principles of socialism – state ownership and control of the means of production and supply of essential goods, and state provision of essential public services – is the best economic system yet devised for us, the 99%. Capitalism is an economic model designed to serve the 1%, not the 99%. Whilst there must always be provision for a small market economy (even the early Bolsheviks accepted that) it must never be allowed to become so large that it controls the political decision-making system, as it does today.

The re-education required is very considerable – not so much in the quantity of new material that needs to be learned, but in the amount of people who need to be re-educated.

I was listening to a man the other evening – let’s call him George. He’s a very pleasant middle-aged person who’s currently a Labour Party councillor with decades of loyal membership of the Labour Party. The discussion, amongst other experienced Labour Party members, was on education reform. Most of these people were in the Labour Party before Tony Blair was leader, and therefore are mostly still imbued with traditional Labour values. Whilst the suggestions for education reforms were all well and good, no one mentioned a vitally important consideration: how they would be paid for. So I brought that question up.

George answered and said, basically, that the rich are going to have to pay more taxes. Someone else immediately responded and said that would cost votes, and this started a fairly heated exchange. This incident exemplifies Labour’s major dilemma – the number of its own members who don’t properly understand how public services are actually paid for.

I must say George’s resolute insistence on the need to tax the rich was a disappointment to me, because he was at a talk I gave a couple of months ago where I explained that taxation doesn’t pay for public services – credit does. Taxation repays the debt. In my talk I explained this, and the massive potential of public banking as the main way to finance public services, interest-free, but George clearly didn’t learn the lesson.

The capitalist model that currently holds the world hostage doesn’t want public services at all. It wants every aspect of society to be controlled by big business. Therefore having public services whose financial survival depends on the private banking system, as they do, is very much like appointing the fox to supervise the hen house.

One of the most exciting things about the Labour Party’s new leadership team, and one of the reasons I joined the party, is shadow-chancellor John McDonnell’s stated aim to create a public bank once Labour wins a general election. Although there’s obviously a very long way to go until such a thing becomes a reality in Britain, having a public bank as a stated objective is a very fine place to start.

As our little discussion group a few evenings ago showed, the first priority must be re-education. If there are so few experienced Labour Party activists who properly understand how public services are paid for, and the huge potential of having a public banking system, how can those lessons be communicated to the wider voting public? The knee-jerk response of “tax the rich” as the means of paying for proper public services needs to be unlearned. Of course, the super-rich should be properly taxed, but the suggestion that this would then provide decent public services is false. Taxes don’t pay for public services, credit does. At the moment the credit is provided by the private banking system, at interest – a private banking system that’s an integral part of the world of big business, which is wholly opposed to the concept of public services. A public bank owned and controlled by the state, and therefore unconnected to big business, could and should provide as much interest-free credit as public services need. That lesson needs to be widely disseminated to Labour Party activists, who could then disseminate it to the millions of voters who quite reasonably want to know how Labour’s great reforms are going to be paid for.

I frequently hear experienced Labour Party activists – real left-wing activists – say something like “Tony Blair made a lot of mistakes, but he did some good things too.” To me this shows the point I made at the start of this article – the difficulty in admitting you made a mistake. Tony Blair was indeed behind some good things. He was, for example, very helpful in establishing the International Criminal Court (a court before which he should now be standing). The man was at the top of British government for ten years. Not everything the government did in that time was bad; but simply presiding over something that is not always bad is not much of an achievement – especially when balanced against all the horrors of the Blair regime, as I showed earlier.

The Blair/Brown years are viewed as successful because they won three successive general elections. The fact they continued the same extreme capitalist economic policies that Thatcher initiated, and which voters had wanted them to stop, is completely overlooked. Electoral success obtained through such wanton deceit is not something to be proud of; it’s downright shameful.

Support for the Blair and Brown years was a ghastly mistake by the Labour Party. It should admit it, and move to ensure that such an aberration never happens again. Labour is a socialist political party. Every membership card clearly says so. Anyone who is not a socialist should leave the party and join any of the numerous right-wing alternatives. Labour needs to rediscover the meaning of the word socialist, proudly fight for socialism, and not give up fighting for socialism. It may cost a few general elections, but that time would be valuably spent re-educating well-meaning but otherwise ignorant Labour Party members, as well as the wider 99%, as to the real hope that socialism offers.

John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non-Fiction books by John are: The People's Constitution (2018 Edition); and The School of Kindness (2018 Edition); and his historical novel The Road to Emily Bay Read other articles by John.