This is a post about Tony Blair. There are many like it, including this one. This is another “what do we do about Blairs legacy to the Labour Party” navel gazing one.
It’s necessary because we’ve never really deal with what Blair did in government. But first, a little personal history to provide context.
I grew up in rural Midlothian in the 1980s. Looking back I became interested in politics because my school never had any after school activities (because of the EIS strike) and there were pitched battles in the nearest town (because of the miners strike). I saw first hand the effect the AIDS crisis had on people. Politics was real, visceral and vital. One parent teacher night at the school I forced the other bored kids to watch Geoffrey Howes resignation speech and Red Dwarf. My friend and I made cardboard tombstones for Thatcher when she left office.
In the 1990s I developed a thrawn teenage Marxist outlook that didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t adopt full communism now. I understood Karl and Ian Curtis in ways no teenager had ever stood them before. I was in techy drawing when Asif burst in with a portable radio bearing the news John Smith had died suddenly.
With all that, I was fairly strongly predisposed to hate Tony Blair. His transformation from Bambi to Bane Of Clause 4 And All True Socialists didn’t take me by surprise but did make my standard grade modern studies project both easier and more polemic. A few years later, as I was about to leave school, he was elected for the first time with a huge majority that won me a prize for guessing the closest to the overall total (I’d guessed 1 higher than the next person. I was a dick as a teenager).
A few weeks after that I went on my 2nd Pride march. Some men dressed as nuns did my make up in the LGBT centre on Broughton St. I got abused on the march. Some folk were spat at. I ran into a recently-former teacher at a stall in the meadows which was a bit awkward for both of us.
That’s all changed now and in a large part that’s due to the last Labour government. Legal steps like equalising the age of consent and bringing in civil partnerships were only part of that. Society shifted.
It still goes on, but it’s no longer socially acceptable to be homophobic, racist, sexist or ableist. People who hold and act on those attitudes still have too much power and still cause huge amounts of physical and psychological harm but they are the minority now. There’s a lot of work still to do, particularly for those of us with disabilities, but it’s a world away from April 1997.
That’s what the modern Labour party has never dealt with. 20 years on and we’ve acknowledged the folly of the Iraq war, apologised for the horrific mistakes and bad government that led there and tried to learn the lessons from that. The banking crash led to the (rather obvious) conclusion that we need to constrain financial capital, regulate other markets more rigorously and deal with the underlying issues the tax credit program addressed at a superficial level.
What we haven’t dealt with is the fact that the rest of society, and our political competitors, have caught up with us on this aspect of social liberalism. It is no longer a differentiating factor for a party to not be overtly racist, homophobic or sexist. Even the Conservatives and the SNP don’t tolerate it anymore, despite a sketchy recent past. It’s part of the price of entry to civilised politics, and for that I’m grateful.