The missed opportunities of New Labour are heart-rending—not least when it comes to Europeby Andrew Adonis / December 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
A common problem in marriages is toxic co-dependency, and the tragedy of the political marriage of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair was precisely this condition.
Gordon would neither work closely with Tony nor challenge him. Had they worked closely and collaboratively, the Blair government might have been a worthy rival to the Attlee government which Gordon so admires for its transformational impact on social justice.
Maybe the reason this never happened is because Gordon never challenged Tony for the leadership. If he had stood in 1994, he would have got a true valuation of his modest support in the Parliamentary Labour Party, the unions and the wider membership, and would have had to come to terms with Tony as senior partner or find another job.
Equally, Tony should have broken with Gordon once their relationship became dysfunctional. I can’t fully explain why he did not do so after the 2001 election, when Tony won his second landslide and wanted to move on joining the Euro. Gordon and Ed Balls had already made clear that they would fight Euro membership, as part of a wider strategy of selectively opposing things dear to Tony in order to weaken and undermine him. But although he considered a ‘take it or leave it’ offer of the Foreign Office in 2001, Tony shrank back from wielding the knife.
Partly, I think, this was from lack of self-confidence (Peter Mandelson said he couldn’t imagine the meeting where Tony sacked Gordon), but partly also because Tony didn’t rate anyone else highly enough to believe that they could command the political middle ground as Chancellor. The great irony is that, had Gordon gone to the Foreign Office in 2001, he might just have stopped Iraq, Tony’s most ill-fated venture.
Even back in 1998, when I went to work for work for Tony, I reflected ruefully that there must have been a glorious morning after 1992 when he and Gordon had worked in harmony, and it was such a pity it hadn’t lasted. I now realise that the morning was as leaden as the evening. Gordon claims his decision not to stand in 1994 was magnanimous self-sacrifice for the ‘modernising’ cause, and that he could have won if he had stood.
This is pure fantasy. Thereafter he imagines himself as the voice of radical social democracy against a rootless kind-of-neo-liberal Blair who was out to do him down and break his ‘Granita’ promise to go after five or six years. Today, as Gordon’s memoirs attest, he holds Tony in bitter and almost unqualified contempt.
It is tedious to relate the policy and personnel arguments which bedevilled the perpetual 13 years of hostilities, between 1994 and Tony’s resignation in 2007. But the missed opportunities are heart-rending. The joint project to modernise public services and reform welfare far more boldly. To extend devolution across England, as well as Scotland and Wales, making possibly a truly federal UK. To make taxes fairer, and work more productive.
In retrospect, the holy grail, had Tony and Gordon truly worked creatively together from the outset, is that ‘Granita’ might have been a bold project to take Britain into the Euro—and the heart of Europe—immediately after the 1997 election. That was the one moment when it could probably have been accomplished. Instead, the long argument about when Tony would abdicate in favour of the ‘wronged’ heir apparent set in.
For contrary to Gordon’s ceaseless ‘project fear’ campaigns of his decade as Chancellor, the Euro has proved remarkably durable and successful. Had Britain been present at the creation, we might now be engaging in a plan for European productivity and prosperity, not Barmy Brexit.
‘The single currency could not have worked for us; increasingly it was not working for the rest of Europe,’ writes Gordon hubristically in his new memoirs. ‘Looking back on it now the euro decision was not just an economic tuning point. My relationship with Tony never quite recovered.’
Maybe slightly more importantly, Britain’s relationship with Europe never quite recovered. And we are paying a heavy price.
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