5th January 2001
With the election approaching and the manifesto about to be written, the prime minister and his advisers, such as yourself, will be coming to a view about how to present the record of the government’s first term and prepare for the second. I am writing to ask that you press for the inclusion in the manifesto of a strong commitment to a new “citizens’ constitution.” The phrase is taken from Charter 88’s document Unlocking Democracy-which reassesses the case for reform after the huge number of disparate yet far-reaching constitutional measures which Labour has carried out since 1997. Without a citizens constitution, there will not be a new Britain.
I am not a member of any political party. But I found myself actively supporting, and in a small way even helping to create, what became New Labour. Perhaps most of all in the period when John Smith was leader; but also, like many who are not party members, I applauded the break from the past which Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s “New” Labour offered. But the promised “New Britain” didn’t happen. It may not be too late to make it happen. But it surely will be too late if it does not happen in the second term.
Labour needs a more coherent constitutional story if it is to break from its own past failure in government. I am aware that this is not the view held by Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell and, I suspect, the prime minister. Early on, after he won the party leadership, Tony Blair set himself the target of winning two full successive terms in office. No Labour government has ever done this. This, he claimed, would be the measure of his historic superiority.
It won’t be. Labour always wins its second elections. Since 1945 Labour has won all its second elections, in 1950, 1966 and 1974, and in the latter two it won four and five years in office respectively. But in all cases it soon lost its way and clung to office without a strategic passion or sense of direction. It was this failure which delivered the country back into the hands of a rejuvenated right.
Clearly, Labour is going to add 2001 to its list of second election victories. That will give it eight or nine consecutive years in power rather than six. But what is done…