A fine case in point is Peter Mandelson. He says [£]:
Ed... is wrong when he describes new Labour as a comfort zone. On the contrary, it was about some difficult choices and some tough decisions on policy. There was nothing comfortable about many of the issues we had to face up to. … I think that if he or anyone else wants to create a pre-new-Labour future for the party then he and the rest of them will quickly find that that is an electoral cul-de-sac.
I understand that people of a certain age like Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley want to hark back to a previous age, and they believe that [Ed] Miliband would reconstruct the party in that image.
If you shut the door on new Labour you’re effectively slamming the door in the faces of millions of voters who voted for our party because we were new Labour.
Look at that line about Kinnock and Hattersley. Of course, it’s easy to make the quick retort that Mandelson is also a man of “a previous age”, but there’s more to it than that.
Think about what Kinnock did with his time at the top of the party. Yes, Labour was then to the left of where it has been since, but that sees things too statically. It was, in fact, an era of tremendous and furious modernisation – leading to improved popularity. During 1983-92, Kinnock and others (including Mandelson) reformed Labour probably more than Blair and others (including Mandelson) did during 1994-97, fighting harder battles than that over Clause IV.
Both were periods of reinvention appropriate to their time, and the specifics of both are of limited relevance to today. Mandelson should be able to see that, but he can’t.
So, what should we do about ‘new Labour’? Much of the debate assumes there’s a single, clear meaning to this phrase; there isn’t. Was ‘new Labour’ a marketing tool or an overarching political strategy or a programme for government? It was all three.
The marketing tool of that name was born in 1994 and has now become dated, useless and even counterproductive. The broader strategic principle, that Labour should adapt itself to changing circumstances and not sacrifice electability to any absolutist view of ‘ideological purity’, goes back to the mid-1980s (and indeed operated in one form or another under pre-Foot leaders), and has as much importance now as it did then.
The programme for government, as manifested in the policies of the late 1990s and 2000s, clearly has had its day. The legacy is of mixed quality, and should now be defended, repudiated, improved upon or entirely transcended as appropriate.
This is all theory, of course. The practice is harder.