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Labour Right in Retreat

John Rentoul

aneurin bevan 2 226x300 Labour Right in RetreatMagnificent from Philip Collins in The Times today (pay wall) on how unhelpful “Blairite” has become as a label. As he says, for Labour “to turn its most successful politician into an epithet of abuse is … an act of quite astonishing self-immolation”.

Nor is it quite right any longer to define the division at the top of the Labour Party as one between Blairites and Brownites. Collins defines it thus:

There will be a serious division, as the election draws near, on the old Brown dividing line of spending versus cuts. Labour people do fall into those who understand how painful it will be to govern without money and those who are still to work it out. There is an important distinction between those who, by instinct, defend the status quo in the public sector and those who want to tear it up. At a level too subtle for classification, this is the fault line of the party. It runs between those who think experts should be in control and those who want to let go.

In the end, though, it goes back to Bevan and Gaitskell and the dispute, between the Left and the Right of the party, about where elections are won. Labour’s soft Left has got its party back and its Right is in retreat. These are now the terms we should once again use. Since the time of Bevan and Gaitskell Labour’s centre of gravity has shifted to the right. It will find out soon enough that Gaitskell was right and so, whisper it, was Blair.

Photograph: Aneurin Bevan

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  • JohnJustice

    Obviously Collins hasn’t been reading the comment threads here on these matters. He should do so. Might enlighten him and perhaps make him more optimistic about Labour’s future.

  • reformist lickspittle

    By most standards, EM is fairly “Labour Right”.

    Isn’t he?

    Lesson number 1 – “Labour Right” and “Blairite” are NOT one and the same.

  • JohnRentoul

    You are right, but comrade Collins was saying that too. Early Blairism grew out of the soft left.

  • greggf

    “…..the fault line of the party. It runs between those who think experts should be in control and those who want to let go.”

    Since the Coalition experience tends to show it’s not just in the Labour party…..!

  • Pacificweather

    “Let it go” to whom one wonders, for what reason and how much.

  • Pacificweather

    Politicians, like Thatcher and Blair, who have strong opinions and act in he interest of the few rather than the majority run the risk of denigration when the damage they have done is revealed by time. This denigration will damage the party for a while but it was ever thus. It is a measure of our politicians that they have failed to come up with a strategy to deal with such a common occurrence.

  • greggf

    I don’t have access to the Times Pacific, so for what it’s worth my somewhat cramped view is that “those who want to let go” are those who would let the heads of the public sector run it on their professional credentials.

  • mightymark

    Worth adding for historical completeness that insofar as the left/right dispute in Gaitskell’s day was about defence, Bevan ultimately came out against unilateralism with his famous “naked into the conference chamber” speech.

  • Pacificweather

    I wonder how many billions have been wasted clothing us for the conference chamber and how much we have gotten from it in comparison to Germany or Japan because Bevan won the argument. Still, if you are going to subsidise employment, it is best to cloak it in a veneer of independent patriotism. I wonder if there is a book on the semiotics of power politics.

  • mightymark

    The value is to have had an intermediate power on the right side of the fence with a weapon iindependent of the USA which packed the biggest nuclear punch on that side. France was another such power.


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