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Wednesday, February 28, 2007 

The myopic vision.

Labour is undoubtedly in huge trouble. After nearly 10 years in power, any momentum there was towards "progressive" politics has ground to a halt. Poll after poll suggests that the Tories have successfully regrouped around David Cameron, and could gain a workable majority in parliament if an election was called tomorrow. Labour, by comparison, is in a flux, waiting for the current leader to finally get the message and go, but at the same time there's little debate about what's going to happen once he does piss off to America to make squillions through telling rich Americans how wonderful they are.

It's into this breach that 2020 Vision enters. Unlike other thinktanks like Compass, which have been established for a while and have tried to influence the debate on where Labour goes from here, 2020 Vision has been set up quickly, and its motives are very far from clear. It also comes with an overwhelming amount of baggage. Headed by Alan "spend more time with my family/forward not back" Milburn and Charles "Safety Elephant/No Trousers" Clarke, it could not be led by two people with more of a hidden agenda.

Milburn isn't just a Blairite; he is the uber-model Blairite. Along with Alastair Campbell and perhaps Stephen Byers, he has long been a member of the inner circle that Blair not only trusts, but at times utterly depends on. While Milburn masterminded the dismal 2005 Labour election campaign, it was the unspoken but obvious underlying message of vote Blair, get Brown, as well as having to involve Brown much more than Milburn wanted to that managed to keep it afloat. Ever since, Milburn has had to content himself with working from the backbenches, coming up with abysmal sub-Tory ideas for reforming the public services, most notably a school voucher scheme. Despite being despised by most of the party's grassroots for his role in convincing Blair to stay on as leader, he still hasn't ruled himself out of standing in the eventual contest, an act of delusion on a par with that of Blair's over Iraq.

Clarke, on the other hand, has at least tried since being dismissed from his role as Home Secretary to take out his anger on both Blair and Brown. He's questioned the need to replace Trident, Blair's pet project, but has kept most of his vitriol for Brown, calling him stupid after the so-called coup attempt of last September. He also hasn't ruled himself out of any leadership election, although the all too visible bitterness over his sacking and the number of attack dog interviews he's given has meant that he too has not got a snowflake's chance.

If 2020 Vision was purely an attempt to launch debate, then many within Labour would have no problem with it. The circumstances surrounding its launch however speak for themselves. Faced with numerous polls suggesting that Labour is back at its lowest ebb since 1983, the Blairite and anti-Brown faction (the two are separate) are convinced that Brown cannot win the next election against that man of the people, David "Dave" Cameron. Partly started by an article by Frank Field a couple of weeks back in the Grauniad, David Miliband is the latest saviour for both factions. Previously both John Reid and Alan Johnson had been thought of as the Blairite candidate to face Brown, only for Reid to run into the same problems at the Home Office as his predecessor, and for Johnson to be more interested in the deputy leadership than in the top job itself. Helped along by the Blair sympathiser Martin Kettle in his Saturday column in the same newspaper, Miliband is suddenly the new only he can stop Gordon™ candidate.

Both Milburn and Clarke of course deny that this is a stealthy attempt to find a candidate to face Brown while promoting the continued failed and hated Blairite legacy. Again though, 2020's Mission Statement speaks for itself, or rather the comments following it do. First up we have Lord Campbell-Stevens, elevated to the House of Lords by Blair. Next is Gisela Stuart, an uber-loyalist. Jim Cousins is admittedly more of a conundrum, supporting ID cards and foundation hospitals but opposing the Iraq war and tuition fees, although this may be more to do with the fact that his constituency has a large student population than with his actual principles. Alun Michael is another uber-loyalist, and former first minister of Labour in Wales. Then there's Ann Clywd, a former leftie who sold her soul to Blairism in return for the war in Iraq, which she supported to the hilt in order to free the Kurds who she had long championed. Frank Field, who has moved far to the right of Labour in recent years, loathes Brown for his role in stopping his welfare reforms, is a predictable supporter. Barry Sheerman is one of those MPs who's mostly loyal but is occasionally critical. Nick Palmer is a PPS and an uber-loyalist. Hilary Armstrong is an uber-Blairite in the Alan Milburn mould. Peter Mandelson puts in an appearance at the very bottom of the first page of comments.

Again, this wouldn't matter much if 2020 Vision were bringing anything new to the table. The mission statement starts off reasonably well, then falls straight into the most obvious pit it should have addressed:

Ten years ago we had a clear vision about direction. And in those ten years we have done much to make both Britain and the world better and fairer. We take pride in what has been achieved under Tony Blair’s leadership.

The world better and fairer? Saying Britian alone is those two things is stretching it, but the world? This is the same grouping which told Blair that Iraq was the elephant in the room, yet even now it can't acknowledge how much more dangerous the world has become thanks to our support for the war. We destroy a country, plunge it into a brutal civil war which you can watch in real time thanks to LiveLeak, and still those at the top of Labour pretend that the world's a better place than it was in the aftermath of 9/11. This isn't just a spectacular display of myopia, it's willfully pretending that everything is just great as dozens of Iraqis continue to be obliterated every day.

We believe in radical reform. For us reform is for a progressive purpose – to make for a fairer society. We look to policies that empower individual citizens, reward aspiration, spread opportunity, tackle intolerance and inequality, provide security, protect the environment and that are internationalist not isolationist. And we look to a style of politics that is based on dialogue, debate and devolved power.

As Unity identifies, this is a whole paragraph of buzzwords which mean absolutely nothing, because as ever with those who have been New Labour to the core there's nothing behind them. Clarke in his piece for CiF and statement asks a number of questions to which we know he already has some inkling towards the answers he favours, but he doesn't share those possible solutions with us.

Perhaps that's the point. While the pretence of 2020 Vision is that this is all about stirring debate, the apparent lack of any policies being proposed speaks volumes. The rhetoric from the two men is the same shallow nonsense we've come to expect from the New Labour circle which was from the beginning implacably opposed to internal debate about the direction of government policy. When Martin Kettle is forced to make a laughable post on CiF about how wonderfully well-attended the launch was, when the real Guardian news report makes it clear that only 13 Labour MPs bothered to attend, and one of those was the Brownite Nick Brown, obviously there to see if he could find out the real motives of Milburn and Clarke, it's already more than abundant that this "Vision" is less clear than they want it to be.

The most ridiculous and fury fomenting part of the 2020 non-manifesto is that politics is about the future, not the past. As George Santayana wrote, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and this is the most telling criticism of what Milburn and Clarke are attempting to do. Both men are the past and what they are attempting to do is to repeat the past 10 years of Blairism which has left the Labour party emasculated and humiliated. The project has failed, yet Brown, who remains at the moment the best hope for the party to continue in power, is still loathed so much by the Blairites that they'll destroy any chance of a victory at the next general election purely out of childish, petulant spite.

There does however need to be a leadership contest and a debate about where the party goes. It would be great if Miliband put his hat in the ring, or if someone like John Denham did. What neither needs is the likes of Milburn or Clarke trying to force their hand out of their own Machiavellian desires for Brown to fail. It's times like this that many of us on the left wish that Robin Cook was still alive -- he would have been a far more realistic option than McDonnell and Meacher, while still making clear that Blairism has come to an end, and that the policies which have brought us to this current malaise need to be not just reconsidered, but abandoned. Instead what we have is those who can be easily dismissed as far left dinosaurs up against a man who the Tories are already delighting in smearing, that the Blairites want to see fail and who hasn't been able to set out his vision in full because of Blair's arrogant, deluded, destructive desire to cling on to power for its own sake.

As it stands, I'm already convinced that Labour has lost the next election. It's now down to how big a majority the Tories get. This won't be the fault of Brown; it will be the fault of those who have refused to acknowledge that the past, and that learning from the mistakes of the last 10 years is integral to remaining in power. It's this myopia, and refusing to admit that the progressive cause has been damaged, not accelerated by the last 10 years that is breeding the ever increasing cynicism.

Related post:
Big Stick Small Carrot - Moving Forward

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It's worth also remembering that Charles Clarke was sacked from the Cabinet by Tony Blair.

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