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Blairites on the march as Miliband falters

Political turmoil is not just engulfing the Tory Party over an in/out referendum on Europe. It is about to break over Labour in a big way as its Blairite wing gears up for a massive push against what they consider a weak Ed Miliband leadership.

Progress, the unashamedly New Labour pressure group, is not affiliated to the party but exerts considerable influence. So much so that the GMB union once tried to get the party conference to ban Progress.

That move came to nothing, but the trade unions still consider Progress as a “party inside a party”. They are not far wrong there. Chairman of Progress is shadow education minister Stephen Twigg, whose policies are hardly distinguishable from those of Tory secretary of state Michael Gove.

Twigg is one of four open Blairites inside the shadow cabinet. The others are Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Liam Byrne, whose support for the ConDem coalition’s “welfare reform” is viewed with horror by disability groups and benefits campaigners.

With the prompting stage right of former prime minister Tony Blair himself, David Blunkett and Lord Mandelson, the Progress group want Miliband to take “tough decisions” on the economy to show the electorate he means business.

Of course, while they were in power, the Blairites took the softest approach possible. They encouraged the City of London to run riot through self-regulation and helped to create the conditions that led to the financial crash that began in the autumn of 2007.

Never mind about that. Progress has commissioned a poll which backs up their view that the party is still seen as “nice” but incapable of being “tough” in a crisis. YouGov president Peter Kellner described the polling as "profoundly troubling" for Labour.

He added: "The central fact is that no successful opposition in the past 50 years has gone on to regain power with such a weak image and without achieving much bigger voting-intention leads at some point in the parliament."

So Miliband’s attempt to rebrand Labour as the party of “responsible capitalism” and in favour of “predistribution” whereby employers get money to pay workers a “living wage”, have fallen on deaf ears as far as voters are concerned.

The middle-classes undoubtedly find it all too vague while working class voters struggling to make ends meet as austerity bite hard, are unimpressed for other reasons.

The trade unions who stumped up the cash to get Ed elected over his Blairite brother David should – but probably won’t – be shocked.  They have been pinning their hopes on a majority Labour government coming to power in 2015 and riding to the rescue of their hard-pressed members. That prospect seems more unlikely with each passing day.

Instead, the Blairites are back in business. In truth, they never left the stage. They remade Labour as a party that embraced globalised capitalism and the market-driven economy. For all Miliband’s huffing and puffing, that’s where Labour remains to this day.

It’s likely to get worse. The infighting inside the Tory Party over whether to announce a referendum on European Union membership reflects the growing presence of the right-wing populist Ukip party. Labour is already adapting to Ukip on immigration and will be tempted to respond with a shift on its EU policy. That will only enrage the Blairites further.

All in all, the mainstream political parties are increasingly as discredited as the political system they operate within. The opportunity to create a movement that is fresh and, above all, democratic that can free society from the grip of the banks and corporations should not be passed up.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
10 May 2013

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