T-minus one day until the Corbyn era is set to officially begin. The Blairite wing of the Labour Party, so convinced after the massacre of May 7th that everyone would see that Miliband had been too left-wing and thus the party would revert back to them, lies in tatters. Along the way, calling someone within Labour circles a Blairite has become the worst insult that can be thrown at them. Even worse than “Tory” in a way, as that seems by its very nature to be hyperbolic; Blairite sticks because it’s by definition true.
How did this happen? The person who is to blame, more than anyone else, is Tony Blair himself.
And not because he went to war in Iraq (although that doesn’t help). Not because he moved the party to the right. And not because of his post-PM career (although again, not helpful). It’s because he never thought about or prepared for what would happen after he vacated the leadership. It’s almost as if he didn’t really care (although that’s evidently not the case as I’ll come onto in a bit).
For a start, it’s reasonably well documented that he firmly thought Brown would be a disaster as prime minister, and yet he let the man walk into the job completely unopposed. Was Blair really so personally petty at the time that he wanted to watch his party crash and burn under Gordon’s aegis, all because he thought it would make people realise how brilliant he was? That’s not how it played out, of course. I mean, the crashing and burning happened but not the everyone thinking Blair was brilliant bit.
As an adjunct to the first problem stated above, he never groomed a successor. Given he was leader of the party for thirteen years, and knew that how he was trying to get the Labour Party to change was pretty substantial and would need ample help surviving his departure, you would have thought this would have been an automatic priority. And yet, the Blairites were marooned in the Brown years, a position that would only get worse under the Brownite Ed Miliband’s leadership.
Why didn’t Blair think about a post-Blair Labour Party, even after he knew he was going to leave quite soon? If he obviously didn’t care about the party, and his whole political career was nothing but one long ego trip, I guess it would make sense. But look at his numerous interventions during the current Labour leadership contest. He must know on some level that none of them have been helpful, and yet he still couldn’t contain himself. It’s clear that he really does care.
Perhaps the shift to the left, the Ed Miliband experiment, the rise of Corbyn; maybe all of that would have happened even if Tony Blair had done all of the things I just mentioned right instead of wrong. We’ll obviously never know. But I don’t think it’s projecting too much onto an alternative universe to say that had he done them, it sure wouldn’t have hurt the cause he seems to care so passionately about, namely saving the Labour Party from itself.