Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

Labour’s leftists mock Tony Blair’s record as divisions widen in UK party

The former prime minister defends policies that are under attack from Jeremy Corbyn

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is embroiled in an ideological spat with former prime minister Tony Blair. AFP
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is embroiled in an ideological spat with former prime minister Tony Blair. AFP

British politics may be dominated by the Conservative leadership contest but splits between left-wing leadership of the opposition Labour Party and its more centrist predecessors have spilt into the open.

There has been a war of words between former Labour prime minister Tony Blair and party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The public dispute is over claims the last Labour government neglected much of Britain to pour resources into projects designed to promote aspiration.

Mr Corbyn is a staunch Marxist who, instead of raising up a fortunate few, wants to improve living standards for everyone.

“For decades, we’ve been told that inequality doesn’t matter because the education system will allow talented and hard-working people to succeed whatever their background,” he said last week.

Mr Blair ushered Labour to power with his moderate political view that social mobility could pull the talented across the class spectrum.

He hit back saying “enough is enough” on Friday. “This is repetition of a charge that frankly has become something of a mantra,” he said.

The former prime minister’s response defended his legacy in the National Health Service under his governance, the narrowing of the wealth gap and increased social mobility.

Last week, Mr Corbyn said he would drop the aim of social mobility to support opportunity for all. The move was welcomed by the self-described “classical liberal” writer Tim Worstall, who said it was “a policy we can all get behind”.

He has previously said working-class people had been hit by “decades of failed economic policies”.

“For 30 years, the media and the establishment tried to tell us that class doesn’t matter any more and that we should ditch any idea of representing and advancing the interests of the working class,” he said last year.

Rather than seizing upon the turmoil in the Conservative Party, Labour has a track record of attacking itself from within.

The party is increasingly under the grip of the grass roots organisation Momentum, strong supporters of Mr Corbyn and his allies, and critical of Mr Blair and his party establishment allies who took a more moderate view of governance when in power.

Mr Blair’s former spin-doctor Alastair Campbell is among those to revolt, choosing to vote for the Liberal Democrats in the recent European Parliament elections, where Labour and the Conservatives were hammered.

Amid the anger from the Labour establishment, the truly left-wing chunk of the party has fought on. Supporters of Mr Blair’s outlook fear that Momentum has a sort of death grip, strangling any sense of moderation out of the party.

Responding to Mr Blair’s video message defending himself, Momentum tweeted: “Blair favoured deregulation of the banking industry – leading to one of the worst crashes in modern history. While spending on public services was higher, his legacy will ultimately be the austerity that followed his failure to stand up to big finance,” said the group, founded in 2015 and synonymous with the Marxist-leaning front-bench surge.

Corbynites have also been emboldened by the recent election of one of their own, Lisa Forbes, who was embroiled in the anti-Semitism allegations that plague Mr Corbyn’s leadership. Despite a majority of only 683 votes, it nonetheless was a coup to fight off the populist Brexit Party candidate.

Mr Corbyn’s Brexit policy has been unclear and he has failed to capitalise on the government’s battering in parliament over its withdrawal agreement.

This, along with accusations of anti-Semitism within the party, led a to a handful of MPs leaving to set up a centrist party called Change UK.

Updated: June 16, 2019 07:17 PM

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