Reread today, Tony Blair’s description of an election “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result (a Tory win)” seems a sort of prophecy. It would be worth considering the reasons for Labour’s defeat. Certainly, there are contingencies, first among them the avalanche of Scottish independence supporters. But this defeat also compels us to think about what has over recent years become practically axiomatic for the left. I am talking about the need to go beyond that “Third Way” and the European and American models of the 1990s associated with it. On the basis of this axiom, Britons bypassed New Labour to choose, albeit not without difficulty, Ed Miliband and not his brother Dave. The Third Way is the fruit of the illusions that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Blair’s support for the Iraqi escapade sealed his fate forever.
Today perhaps we are discovering that that’s not exactly the way things stand, and that much remains to be learned from that experience for a party such as the PD. Certainly, Iraq was a mistake that cannot be erased, not least because Blair has never truly admitted it. He has never lost that interventionist fervour, and the British left will not forgive him for that. But that decision cannot obscure the left’s only winning feature of the last twenty years — but woe betide winners, given their inexplicable demise at the hands of a left-led obliteration campaign.
It is true, the Third Way was born of a 1990s season of optimism and growth. But the present season is calling for a greater, certainly not lesser, rate of reform. Indeed, New Labour’s strategic champions remain of extraordinary relevance, those among its leadership first and foremost, defeated by an outsider running counter to the traditional apparatus. One capable of communicating directly with the voters, but also — and here I am reminded of the problems of my own PD party — capable of displaying formidable organisational cohesion.
We must not condemn the idea of winning over voters from the other side, aware of the fact that modern democracies are threatened by their lack of efficacy and decisiveness. An idea of society based on the struggle against injustice and elevation of the person, without any illusion of countering the ideology of Thatcher (society does not exist) with its opposite, i.e. negation of the individual. Inclusion of security among the values that the left must embrace in its defence of the weaker; the left as a symbol of openness in contrast with the right’s symbolic closure. It was with such ideas that the left won over and changed society.
Faced with the crisis we looked elsewhere, but not in the sense of more expansive, Keynesian policies; no, often simply a return to the past, the revival of a more or less veiled Statism — it didn’t work. It is not a question then of reopening the historic debate over Blair and what he represents, but of going back to the idea of a liberal and governing left, and of adapting that vision to our times in order to end the nightmare of a left destined for nostalgia and relegation to a minority.