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Wednesday, July 22, 2015 

Much like pulling teeth.

For the last two days I have had raging, agonising toothache.  You might have thought that by age 30 I would have reached the stage where my gnashers are all present and correct, and the only way from here is down in numbers rather than up, but no.  One bastard wisdom tooth is still determined to burrow its way up through the gum, only it's coming through with a massive hole in the centre.  Whether it's the pain from its continuing journey, as I've been suffering from pangs on and off for a few months now, or it's finally decided to get infected, as the previous one also did, I don't know.  What I do know is that it's coming through in such a position on the lower left side of my mouth that it has to be removed at the hospital, rather than my dentist being able to do so.  This will most likely mean a wait of around 6 months.

You can hopefully appreciate then just how little my mood has been improved by Labour's progress through the 5 stages of political ineptitude.  Different individuals within the party are at different stage, with some still being stuck in the denial phase, while others are as far along as depression.  John McTernan is most definitely in anger, while relatively few have so much as considered bargaining.  Acceptance, well, no one's got as far as that yet.

This would all be very much easier to take if the analysis of political journalists wasn't also so skewed, or just dead wrong.  Rafael Behr in a generally not that bad piece in the Graun turns once again to that old canard about the left preferring purity to governance, regarding victory as being only one step away from betrayal.  Bollocks.  Yes, there are a tiny number on the left that would rather be holier than thou than in a position to effect change, but they are most certainly not within Labour itself, nor are they for the most part out and out Labour supporters.  Sympathisers, definitely, but just as likely to vote for another party when it comes to it.  It's also complete nonsense to say that Ed Miliband's legacy will be to have rehabilitated this tendency after Blair turned Labour into a party that won elections.  The idea that Labour under Miliband was not serious about winning, that it didn't try its damnedest to win is laughable.  The reason the shock was so great, remains so great is that everyone, the media, the other parties, also believed the polls to be accurate.  As we've seen before, once the facts change most people then claim they were always against something now seen to be a disaster, or in this instance never believed Labour could win.

Behr's other mistake is to again repeat the argument that Labour regard those who voted Tory as not being good people, or not having good motives.  This is absurd.  As he himself sets out in his intro, the main reason the Tories won is they had a strong message well communicated by someone regarded as a plausible leader.  They also however relied heavily on the scare tactic of a Labour-SNP coalition/minority government, which while not necessarily the game changer many think, definitely had an impact.  The real problem, as evidenced by this week's scarcely believable stupidity over the welfare bill, is that the "realists" are convinced the Tory win is proof voters are overwhelmingly supportive of Osborne's "new settlement", or at least large parts of it.  The evidence for this is sketchy at best.  In any case, as pointed out by Dean Burnett, to think a vote in parliament now is going to affect how those good people vote in 2020 is ludicrous.  It has though driven traditional Labour supporters who are paying attention into paroxysms of despair, as well as delighting the other opposition parties who can't quite believe their luck.

We must then come to the latest sighting of our Tone.  No one knows quite where he descends from, or quite where it is he goes once he's put in an appearance, but whenever there's a situation to be made even more disagreeable, up he turns.  You might remember that just before the election campaign proper got going he told the Economist he believed that in a battle between a traditional left-wing party and a traditional right-wing party there could only be the traditional result.  This was an incredibly incisive piece of analysis, just slightly undermined by how describing Ed Miliband's Labour party as traditionally left-wing is to make clear you are an utter nincompoop.

Which has always been the problem with Blair.  He's often right, but when he's wrong, he's wrong to the power of eleventy stupid.  Labour lost in 2010 not because it had been exhausted by power, as all parties are eventually, but because Gordon Brown in Tone's eyes had stepped back from the modernising agenda.  Ed Miliband rowed even further back, although Tone kindly says he came to have "great admiration" for Miliband's refusal to back down.  Miliband thought the centre ground had shifted to the left, whereas Tone doesn't believe "it shifts in that way".

Blair is in many ways just like the rest of us.  We don't like to admit when we're wrong, so we often double down instead.  Only when convinced of our righteousness do we in fact put up a fight.  Blair therefore doesn't think the centre ground can ever move to the left, when the reality is it can only ever be shifted left or right through argument, winning debates and the majority accepting the case made.  Blair is explicit that he thinks nationalism is retrograde, the politics of the caveman, just as he also thinks to be against immigration is foolish, stupid.  Both stances should therefore be fought for regardless of whether or not doing so is a winner strategy.  The many things Miliband fought for by contrast were a rejection of the modernising zeal he thought he had inculcated in the party, and therefore bad regardless of whether they won votes.  Indeed, even if he did think "an old fashioned leftist platform" was the route to victory, Tone wouldn't stand on it.

Anyone detecting something of a similarity between the supposed attitudes of the lefties who prefer purity to power and the Blairites at the opposite end of the scale are of course barking up the wrong tree.  Tone doesn't really mean it; if the politics of Jeremy Corbyn were the route back to power, he'd be all over them.  Blair was always, has always been less of a Blairite than the Blairites themselves, as shown by his five pieces of advice for the party.  These are in actual fact rather good, if somewhat obvious.  Embrace technological change he says; do not accept the argument that Labour caused the crash, even if it could have done things better; learn lessons from Labour councils; develop a dialogue with business, especially on productivity and skills; and lastly, reform how the party itself operates, taking cues from organisations abroad.

Regardless of its merits, we've long passed the point at which an intervention from Blair is a welcome one.  For all the sniping at Corbyn, Blair like the others in the party doesn't seem to realise the reason he's doing is well is not because he's the answer.  Barely anyone truly thinks he is.  He's doing well because the rest are so shockingly awful and because their arguments, when they bother to make them, are neither one thing nor the other.  Even Blair recognises that Corbyn is "Labour through and through".  Liz Kendall isn't doing badly because she really is a crypto-Tory, it's because she and the others have failed to convince so far that their answers are better, or any more likely to lead to victory.  When given the choice between someone who is Labour, and three others who don't have the courage of their convictions, what choice is there?

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