Labour has always been the party of a reactionary elite
If one characteristic defines most shades of the British left, it is a never-ending capacity for self-delusion. Take the current Labour MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk. After combing through the wreckage of today’s Labour Party, Danczuk reckons its prospects would look brighter if Tony Blair were still in the driving seat. Apparently, Blair would be able to reach out to the thousands of ‘dispossessed’ souls who put a cross next to ‘UKIP’ at the recent European Parliament elections. You see, Danczuk has surveyed Labour under its current leader, Ed Miliband, and he believes it has been ‘hijacked by a metropolitan elite’ and posh academics. Who would have guessed that the heart and soul of Labour was embodied by Tony Blair? After all, Blair is, by all accounts, a hugely embarrassing and toxic figure for the radicals that still cling to Labour’s coat-tails.
Danczuk’s logic is that Blair had a number of Old Labour stalwarts, like John Prescott, Alan Johnson and Alan Milburn, who appealed to Labour’s traditional constituency. By contrast, Miliband surrounds himself with career politicians and ex-academics turned MPs who will only alienate ordinary Labour voters. Now, this is both a pretty dim view of the electorate and a naïve view of Labour under Blair. Yes, a number of Blair’s cabinet ministers had proletarian backgrounds and cultivated gruff northern personas, but that didn’t prevent any of them from popularising the idea that Labour’s older voters were a tribe to be feared, loathed and, above all, controlled.
It is the consequences of Labour’s loathing of its older, traditional constituency, not the fact it has shadow-cabinet ministers called Tristram, which has turned its voters towards UKIP. And if anyone personified the rise of sneering metropolitan values in Labour politics and beyond, it was the former poster boy for Islington’s dinner-party set, Tony Blair.
But even this is to miss the point about the Labour Party. Despite once having a working-class constituency, Labour has always been a reactionary and elite-driven organisation. It has always been led and run by well-to-do and high-minded types who hoped to save ‘the poor’ from their own vices. This has been reflected, not just in its paternalistic policies, but in Labour’s anti-democratic structure and its bureaucratic measures to prevent ordinary voters from having an influence within the party. Still, Labour has no worries about an influx of angry workers, or anyone else for that matter, joining its ranks any time soon. The phrase ‘empty shell’ springs to mind. But while Labour’s membership and appeal diminishes, its supporters’ capacity for delusion and fantasy-land thinking only gets bigger.
Neil Davenport is a teacher and writer based in London.