Saturday, 20 July 2013

On Blair

I had a real-life political argument today.

I was on a United With Labour street stall promoting the Scottish Labour campaign for Scotland to remain part of the UK. On the stall we also had information about the DebtBusters campaign (challenging the legal loan sharks who sell payday loans and charge exorbitant interest) and our local campaign calling for action against the Bedroom Tax. All great campaigns rooted in Labour values.

Some of the folk who approached us wanted to talk about other issues than the ones we were focused on. And that's great - one of the reasons we do stalls and other public engagement is to listen to what's important to people and feed it into our campaign work. We had some informative conversations.

But this couple wanted to talk about the Iraq war and Tony Blair, and I must confess, dear reader, that I did not. Not because I'm in denial, not because I have no answers, but because inevitably every such conversation seeks to find a way to change the past, and every time it fails, because we cannot do so.

I opposed the Iraq war, and I marched against it at the time. It was wrong. The Labour Party has since elected a leader who agrees it was wrong, and I'm proud to have voted for him. None of that changes the fact that it happened.

But this couple said the Labour Party had to go further to address this past mistake. They said only one course of action would satisfy them that Labour had learned its lesson: the expulsion of Tony Blair from the party.

On a busy shopping street on one of the hottest days of the year, I'm being told that unless I agree to call for Tony Blair's expulsion from the Labour Party, my arguments about the referendum, payday loans, bedroom tax and everything else are worthless.

And here's where I made my mistake. I responded with passion. I responded bluntly in reaction to the utterly idiotic logic of it. I told them I thought their idea was petty, personalised the issue rather than addressing it, and was utterly without merit.

This didn't go down well.

"Petty? You think opposition to the Iraq War is petty?" No, I'd have said, if they'd let me get a word in. That's not what I said and it's not what I meant. What I think is petty is to demand Blair's expulsion as retribution. I think it's dysfunctional, and counter-productive, to pretend that that would fix anything. Blair took a decision later backed by a majority of parliament on the basis of information believed to be accurate at the time. It was, in my opinion, the wrong decision, but it was his call.

"He's a war criminal!" At this point I'm on familiar territory. I point out that to be a criminal a person has to be convicted, and he has not even been charged. "Well he should be!" Well I'm sure that gives you the right to convict him without trial then, super. I imagine you're an expert in international law, yes?

You can see how this is going. Not well. Light is not being shed. Minds are not being changed. The past is once again destined to remain unaltered.

It went on for a while, and in the end we agreed to disagree on the idea of expelling from the party one of Labour's most successful leaders ever. And as is the way of such things, I realised afterwards what I should have said. It's very simple.

Under Tony Blair's leadership, Labour went to war in Iraq and made some dreadful mistakes on civil liberties. I think we were wrong on both counts.

But.

Also under Tony Blair's leadership, Labour delivered the winter fuel allowance, we delivered the shortest NHS waiting times in history and we cut crime by a third.

Under Blair we created SureStart, we delivered the Cancer Guarantee, there were record results in schools, and more students than ever.

Under Blair we implemented the Disability Discrimination Act, we delivered devolution for Scotland and Wales and we created Civil Partnerships.

Blair's commitment was critical to the Good Friday Agreement which delivered peace in Northern Ireland.

We implemented the Social Chapter, improving working conditions for millions, and we lifted half a million children out of poverty.

Under Blair we also ... Och, sod it, I'll let Gordon tell you the rest (list starts at 0m55s):



The point is simple. Are there things Labour has done that I opposed? Yes. But our achievements are still great. I'm still proud of the huge amount of good we've done, and excited and motivated by the huge amount of good we still can do in the future. And anyone who calls Tony Blair a bad guy based on Iraq, or makes lazy assertions about New Labour being right-wing, is also dismissing every single one of the achievements Gordon lists above.

I'm proud of those achievements, and keen to do more. That's why I'm Labour.

6 comments:

  1. The heat has obviously evaporated what was left of your lonely neuron, you have to be the most brain washed blogger on earth, I truly pity you.

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  2. It must be awful for you, dealing with ill-informed people who fail to realise how clever and right you are about everything. Well done for coping with such dignity by blogging about how clever and right you are and how some people failed to realise it.

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  3. Labour party policy is not to to repeal the bedroom tax. Show we one quote from either Ed Milliband or Johann Lamont that states in black and white that if returned to power Labour will. You are in fact seriously attempting to mislead people by claiming otherwise. On Welfare changes being introduced by the Tory party Labours policy is to maintain all of those changes if they return to power and indeed to introduce further ones such as regional welfare benefit caps. Dont try to fool people you intend to out Tory the Tories.

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  4. Duncan, is it your intention to deceive the people of Scotland?

    If the answer is 'No' then why do you go along with this Scottish Labour campaigning strategy, in which individuals such as yourself, set up stalls or make comments under a Labour Party banner, then campaign on popular issues, such as repealing the bedroom tax, but knowing this is not Labour Party policy.

    This is deception pure and simple.

    If you genuinely want the bedroom tax repealed lobby the Labour party leaders to make public statements saying they will repeal it, if they get into power.

    Alex Salmond has already done this, so it shouldn't be too difficult for Johann Lamont, unless she doesn't want to repeal it.

    If she doesn't, then please stop campaigning for it under her parties banner and deceiving people into believing that this is labour party policy.

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  5. Labour opposes the bedroom tax. We voted against it and we campaign against it. When a manifesto is drawn up for the next UK election I have little doubt that it will contain a costed commitment to either repeal it or undo its effects. But to make uncosted commitments two years ahead of an election would be dishonest.

    The SNP isn't pledging to repeal the bedroom tax across the UK, only in Scotland. And the truth is they could offset its effects today if they wanted to.

    The campaign I'm involved in isn't about repeal in two years time, it's about action needed now. If we worked cross party we could save Scots from the effect of this tax, just as we saved Scots from cuts to Council Tax Benefit.

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  6. Oh my Duncan. Write down all the things you want for your country. Then compare this list with all the primary source material from political parties. Count up which
    gives you the highest score. Adjust scores for things that are import to you. For instance the NHS is very important to me for all they have done for my and my friends familes. Nuclear power I'd rather not but having lived within 30 miles of Torness I'm relaxed about it, dangerous but clean.

    This is the difficult bit. The scores have a habit of making unpleasant reading. Now I'd never describe my self as center right but how is it that I appear be aligned to a party from there?

    What happened to the party I used to vote for? It's there, still, I hope ready to put its head above the parapit. The only way for that to happen is independence.

    It's better to regret something you have done than something you haven't.

    And my own #projectfear thought. If you think independence will be a nightmare have you really thought what staying will be like. How much do you think the block grant from Westminster will be in 5 years?

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