In his speech yesterday Chuka Umunna appeared to be offering from the Blairite faction of the PLP an olive branch of reconciliation. If this is the correct interpretation, it is a useful and welcome one, although he made it conditional on Jeremy Corbyn showing flexibility on EU, NATO, Trident renewal, and tax (unspecified). I don’t remember Blair, when he won the leadership in 1994, offering flexibility on policy in order to gain support from potential front-bench members of the PLP, having won. My memory is that, come 1997 in particular, we were all told to knuckle down and loyalty was the order of the day. But let that pass. The key point is that he emphasises solidarity and agrees, what is obviously true, that the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands who have joined Labour in recent weeks are not entryists, but have done so because they are animated by Labour values.
That is helpful, and if Corbyn wins, we should certainly respond in kind, though not by acceding to veiled threats of non-co-operation as though certain persons are indispensable, though certainly not either with intimations of a purge – even if again that is exactly what Blair and Mandelson organised via consolidating control of parliamentary selections and making huge efforts behind the scenes to replace large numbers of centre and left MPs with preferred Blairite alternatives in the run-ups to general elections.
But Umunna still does not quite get it. Defending New Labour, he argues that “It is not unreasonable to be ambitious for what your party in government can achieve in building greater equality, liberty, democracy and sustainability”. He seems not to recognise that New Labour actually did the precise opposite. It increased inequality, restricted civil liberties, centralised power, and prioritised wealth-creation over sustainability. He doesn’t seem to grasp that it was for reasons such as these that the country does not want New Labour back. And that’s quite apart from the Iraq war, paving the way for the almighty crash of 2008-9, the despised culture of spin and manipulation with which Blair poisoned political communciation, and Blair’s rancid love of money-making.
Umunna still can’t get it that this Blairite agenda is really not wanted. It’s a failed and busted business model which, given Labour’s unprecedented majorities between 1997-2010, was a massive wasted opportunity. If Corbyn wins and Umunna and his Blairite friends show reliable loyalty to the new leader, then the party can co-operate well. But nobody is indispensable.