Keir Starmer is once again preparing to rebrand the Labour Party. This time, people are in uproar over his comments about ’embracing Tony Blair’s legacy’. So, thanks to a journalist for the Independent, here’s a helpful rundown of why Starmer shouldn’t embrace anything about his most notorious predecessor.
Starmer: hug a war criminal
Starmer gave an interview to the Financial Times (FT):
Starmer urges Labour to embrace Blair’s legacy as he vows to win the next election https://t.co/oSirzu8YLW
— FT UK Politics (@ftukpolitics) August 5, 2021
He didn’t actually say “embrace Blair’s legacy”. But Starmer did tell the FT that:
We have to be proud of that record in government and not be arm’s length or distant about it.
He also noted that, much like Blair and Gordon Brown:
among my first tasks is rebuilding the relationship between the Labour party and business
“Proudly remind” people of the Blair years
The FT wrote that:
Starmer said “Labour only ever wins if it glimpses the future” but for the party to convince voters it can transform their lives, it must “proudly remind” people of what it did the last time it was in office.
Hmm. You would be forgiven for thinking this all seems a bit rose-tinted. But luckily, a journalist for the Independent was on hand to help refresh Starmer’s memory over the Blair/Brown years.
Making the Tories blush
Back in 2020, Jon Stone began a helpful thread on Twitter. It detailed many of the previous Labour government’s not so good moves:
there’s been a reassessment of the Blair/Brown government on the Left in recent years: you hear more about its achievements than you used you. that’s good, but it’s also important not to forget that it regularly did things a Tory government would be criticised for (THREAD)
— Jon Stone (@joncstone) February 23, 2020
You can read Stone’s full thread here. Below is a run-down of the Blair/Brown years’ worst moments:
- In 2000, Labour “stripped refugees of benefits and made them use vouchers to buy food”. Blair’s government backtracked a few years later.
- The party cut social security for lone parents to “help them back to work”.
- A Labour minister wanted to make having a job a condition of being entitled to a council house. Or, as Stone put it, “strip unemployed council tenants of their homes”.
- Blair, as Stone described it, “boasted that he would leave Britain with the most restrictive anti-trade union laws in the western world”.
- Labour introduced Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). Part of this policy included ‘naming and shaming’ people in the media and in leaflets and included children under 10.
- It also introduced a points-based immigration system for migrants from outside the EU.
- A Labour health secretary wanted to introduce a “for-profit ‘NHS Plus’ paid-for health insurance top-up system”.
- As Stone noted, Blair “wanted to sell off more social housing by extending Right To Buy to housing associations, with the explicit political aim of reducing the difference between Labour and Tory policies”.
- The former PM also “welcomed 11 private healthcare firms into the ‘NHS family’ and promised them a stronger foothold in the health service”.
- Labour tried to, as Stone put it, “cut benefits for asylum seekers and then take their children away into care once they become destitute”.
And there’s more:
- Blair agreed with a shopping centre that banned people wearing hoodies and baseball caps.
- Labour “told councils to stop translating things into other languages to make life more difficult for immigrants who didn’t speak English, as an ‘incentive’”.
- Blair set a target to halve the number of people claiming asylum in the UK.
- Former home secretary David Blunkett told British Asians that they should speak English even in their own homes.
- Labour increased the the use of stop and search, introducing a new power where people could be stopped without suspicion. This power was later found to be unlawful.
- Blair also brought in “indiscriminate” 9pm police curfew powers for under-16s. The policy was unlawful, and Labour had to scrap it.
- It was Labour which introduced controversial welfare reforms that forced lone parents – as well as chronically ill and disabled people – to look for work or lose their social security.
- Back to Blunkett, and Stone noted that he “said he had ‘no sympathy’ with asylum seekers from Kosovo and Afghanistan arriving in Britain and said they should ‘go home’”.
- Stone wrote that Blair said “Muslim women who wore the veil make people ‘feel uncomfortable’, that their clothes are a ‘mark of separation’, and that he wasn’t sure whether they could make a full contribution to British society”.
- Oh, and of course there was the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath; increasing Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) in the NHS; the UK’s role in US rendition flights and torture, and the war in Afghanistan.
Labour: dead in the water?
So, all this has led to Blair being deeply unpopular. As one Twitter user summed up:
— Frank Sobotka (@cymrurouge) August 5, 2021
Yet Starmer wants us to be “proud” of all this, according to the FT. The whitewashing of the Blair/Brown legacy (and the fact it paved the way for the successive Tory governments’ catastrophic management of the UK) is a stain on the current Labour leader. And this latest rebranding back to a Blairite MO also shows the desperation setting in at the heart of the Labour Party machinery.
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