‘Labour in the Dark: The Spirit of Blair Has Not Been Exorcized Yet’

‘Labour in the Dark’, Tariq Ali interviewed by Anabel Loyd for the Calcutta Telegraph, August 2, 2010

Reportedly a regular visitor to Ralph Miliband’s house in Primrose Hill, London, with other well-known left-wing thinkers and activists in the 1970s, Tariq Ali is pessimistic at the prospect of either of the ‘brilliant’ Miliband offspring leading the Labour Party. In his view, the elder, David, is so tarred with the New Labour—Blairite —brush as to be unable to build an alternative image for the party, possibly one reverting more to old Labour roots, while he writes off younger brother, Ed, as weak and indecisive. David was closely associated with all the Blairite policies, and any hint of Labour change currently being touted by the brothers is, he feels, pure pretence, whatever their intellectual socialist background.

As for the other leadership contenders, he does not see Ed Balls as a breath of new air, Diane Abbott is damned as well-meaning but inadequate, and Andy Burnham as Blairite to the core—and same old, same old…. Diane Abbott is at least a familiar face on television, Burnham is, in reality, the least high profile and well-known of the candidates, and his role in the race is probably little more than the effect he may have on vote shares that may upset someone else’s apple cart. I doubt many of us would recognize him if we saw him in the street.

Ali believes that the unions may still determine the leadership in spite of a record of collaboration with New Labour. Unison, the biggest public sector trade union, has come out in support of Ed Miliband, but the unions no longer have their powerful block vote as decided by their leaders. So individual members voting in secret postal ballot are still in a position to make up their own minds.

I wrote in May, after a conversation with the former Conservative Party chair and now chancellor of Oxford University, Chris Patten, of his view that if David Miliband wins the Labour leadership, he may reinforce a new collegiate style of politics at Westminster with less of the unending party tribalism and point-scoring of the past. Patten and Ali were contemporaries themselves at Oxford; their views on a more symbiotic relationship between parties are strikingly different. For Patten, greater party consensus means less time-wasting and improved policy implementation. For Ali, it means swerving towards a one-party State, a situation that he foresees in the United States of America as, aside from the diehard extremes, Republicans and Democrats converge, and likewise in other countries, as ideology is subverted by pragmatism and the essential voice of genuine opposition and alternative is barely heard. read more

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