This article originally appeared in our Elevenses newsletter.
When Sir Keir Starmer was elected leader of the Labour Party in 2020 he set out three priorities for his administration. The first was to detoxify the brand in the wake of the anti-Semitism crisis that had plagued his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, culminating in the EHRC inquiry and the MP for Islington North being unceremoniously booted out of the Labour Party. The second was to restore trust in the party and the third was to offer a bold vision for Britain which, fair to say, is still under review. But I would suggest there was an unspoken fourth priority that has started to reveal itself in recent months, and that is to align Labour with the party that won three back-to-back elections under the stewardship of Sir Tony Blair, a door that has remained open thanks to the profit-making institution that he now runs.
Much has been made in recent weeks of Labour’s purge of the left after Jamie Driscoll was blocked from being Labour’s representative to contest the north-east mayoralty. Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell accused Starmer supporters of being ”drunk with power” and being more interested in destroying certain factions of the party than getting a Labour government, while Mick Lynch called for more balance. Maurice Mcleod, who was overlooked in London, says highly capable, leftwing candidates have also been denied the chance to stand in Wakefield, Hastings, Peterborough, Stroud, Kensington and Milton Keynes to name but a few places. Commenting on the matter, Guardian columnist Owen Jones says Starmer has trashed a promise not to lurch to the right as leader. “What Keir Starmer offered was Corbynism with competence, that was the basis of his leadership bid,” he says. “What he delivered was Blairism without charisma.”
But there is Blairism in spirit and there is Blairism in practice, and the two are very different things. It is one thing to speak of education as a means of breaking the class ceiling or talk of beefing up Clause IV as ideological gauges, and it is quite another to replace your inner circle with New Labour devotees including Matthew Doyle, Pat McFadden and his wife and Peter Mandelson, all of whom hold extremely influential positions. Indeed, the Tony Blair Institue – a for-profit organisation that has raked in millions of pounds by providing advice to governments around the world – is expected to serve as one of the key recruitment grounds if, or when, Labour gains power, creating dozens of roles needed to run an effective government. “Our working assumption is that half of the Blair institute will be flooding into No 10… once we’ve won,” a senior Labour official said this week, which is… a little sticky.
Not so long ago there was outrage when it was found that the Liz Truss administration was effectively being run from the offices in Tufton Street, and while the TBI might not espouse the same sort of terrifying neoliberalist approaches to the economy, voters won’t be pleased when they find out that the new New Labour is being run out of Bartholomew Close. They’ll want to know, just as we did back then, who is actually running Britain, the party or ‘the institute’?
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