New Labour guru has second thoughts – sort of

Do you remember how confidently the media pundits and New Labour elder statesmen told us that electing Corbyn as leader would be a disaster? It is worth recalling what they said and how, in the light of the general election 2017 their political judgement has been clear shown to be at some remove from reality.

Take the case of David Blunkett. He has been around the block a few times:

  • Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (6 May 2005 – 2 November 2005)
  • Home Secretary {8 June 2001 – 15 December 2004)
  • Secretary of State for Education and Employment (2 May 1997 – 8 June 2001)
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment (20 October 1994 – 2 May 1997)
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Health (18 July 1992 – 20 October 1994)
  • Member of Parliament for Sheffield Brightside (1987–2010)
  • Leader of the Sheffield City Council (1980–1987)

If experience automatically led to wisdom then David Blunkett would be a very wise man. After the second election of Jeremy Cobyn as Labour Leader he (DB) expressed strong opposition to the decision of the majority of party members. That his right, of course, but what is worth noting is the exact terms in which he expressed his feelings to the Daily Mail (yes, the Daily Mail).

For the Labour Party I love, the party I have devoted more than 50 years of my life to serving, the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader is a catastrophe. I’m in despair at this calamitous situation. I honestly cannot see how we’re going to get out of it. … For the country, it’s an utter disaster. …

The Labour Party under Corbyn is not electable. I am at a loss to understand what the 313,000 members who voted for him believe they can really achieve in the next three years, and what the eventual outcome will be, other than annihilation at a general election in 2020. …

With the backing of Britain, Labour leaders in the past have achieved massive social changes. We did not establish the National Health Service by being a protest movement. We did it by uniting millions of people. And that’s what Jeremy Corbyn can never do. He’s a past master at the art of opposition. … And that’s all he can do. He could never lead a government, because he has no experience of it and no aptitude for it. My own experience tells me so. …

The people running Momentum are modern-day Marxists. And they are incapable of seeing that Britain will never vote for Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister, when he has no concept of national security. He doesn’t want to fight terrorism – he can’t even bring himself to denounce Palestinian terrorists or the IRA. He has already said he would never push the nuclear button, and I strongly suspect he could never sanction any kind of war at all. A Britain led by this man would be vulnerable and helpless, and the electorate knows it.

… my party – has been handed over to a social splinter movement that wants nothing more than the adventure of endless protest marches. And it breaks my heart. (Daily Mail, 26 September 2016)

Today (18th June 2017) David Blunkett wrote the following in The Observer.

Like so many others, I thought we were in for a heavy defeat and that unity was the only way to save the Labour party from a catastrophic wipeout. I was wrong.

Not only did Corbyn’s campaigning zeal enthuse so many young people to vote, but created a motivation and clear anti-austerity alternative to the Conservatives, which captured the imagination of many and the net gain of 30 seats. …

So, congratulations to Jeremy, but congratulations to all those dedicated workers, to our candidates and, yes, to the Labour party’s paid officials, who ran the campaign on the ground. …

An understanding that the largest proportion of the popular vote since 2001 and the greatest uplift in the popular vote since 1945 give us a real base to go forward. But forward together, not in either an atmosphere of revenge or an Alice in Wonderland detachment from reality.

We have a mountain to climb and climb it together we must. We are 64 seats from an overall majority of one. We have four more seats than we had in 2010, but this time we have 12.8m votes and 40% of the popular vote. …

Retaining and building on the votes of young people who have never voted in such large numbers before is crucial to future victory. But we also need to regain the votes of those older members of electorate who either deserted us to the Tories, whose vote after all went up, or who abstained. …

It is right for us all to take comfort in, and gain a resurgence of hope in, the taming of Theresa May. But we must never forget that glorious defeat is never the same as victory. In the coalition that has always been the Labour party, we need to hear each other, sometimes hug each other and, above all, have the humility to acknowledge that being right can sometimes turn out to be wrong.

The transition from “The re-election of Jeremy Corbyn is a catastrophe”, “I’m in despair”, “it’s an utter disaster” and “it breaks my heart” to “I was wrong” and “congratulations to Jeremy” is, to say the least, striking and must cast at some doubt on David Blunkett’s political judgement.

We can only hope that he will use such influence as he has with those many MPs who still dream of a Blairite past which will never return to persuade them that “In the coalition that has always been the Labour party, we need to hear each other, sometimes hug each other”. He didn’t seem much inclined to do any hugging in his Daily Mail article. Had he worked on that basis last year instead of thundering against the party leader in the right-wing press and had the Parliamentary Labour Party backed Corbyn, albeit while offering constructive criticism then there can be little doubt that Labour’s impressive upturn in this year’s general election could have been even greater. David  Blunkett’s second thoughts now need to extend from all too fallible election predictions to questioning the New Labour assumptions on which he worked for so many years.


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