Magazine article The Spectator

Small Wobble in Labour Party: No One Killed

Magazine article The Spectator

Small Wobble in Labour Party: No One Killed

Article excerpt

Don't be taken in by the media's hyperbole; by comparison with summers past, this government is not having a particularly rough time. Of course, depending on your media outlet of choice, Mr Blair is said to be 'reeling', 'fuming' or 'fumbling', and having the toughest two weeks of his premiership or the worst crisis since he came to power. But those with long memories and a sense of perspective know that we are light years away from the storms that used to rock Mrs Thatcher's ship and the raging internal battles that tore apart John Major's administration.

Compared with previous Labour governments, Mr Blair's wobbles are a sideshow. Remember the deep sense of crisis and electoral collapse that followed the Bevanite split in 1950-51 or the economic crisis and political defeats in 1967-69, not to mention the winter of discontent in 1978-79? For all their achievements, what these administrations demonstrated was the difficulty for Labour of renewing or even sustaining itself in office, not least because too many in the party preferred to undermine their government than to help renew it.

It does not mean that everything has gone perfectly well; it never does. But I am struck by the fact that this year the Labour party's cohesion has survived British backing for one of the most controversial and divisive international actions - in Iraq - of the entire postwar period; and that the government has an agreed position on the European single currency from which no member of the Cabinet dissents.

Add to these unity-defying achievements the fact that the government has delivered unprecedented economic stability, historic investment in public services, much needed reform of the welfare system, devolution of government and other elements of a constitutional revolution, as well as success in remaking Britain's relationships in Europe, and you have to accept that recent wobbles were small earthquakes which left no one dead.

Does this mean that every Labour MP can go off on holiday in July without a care in the world? Of course not. The odd media gaffe is bound to be magnified because of New Labour's legendary prowess in this area. But periodic presentational tiredness should not be confused with terminal 'decay', as some BBC political correspondents suggest. And there is a nagging feeling that the New Labour 'project' has lost momentum. But this is because too few in government talk publicly and convincingly about their mission rather than because its purpose no longer exists.

The government's opponents, naturally, will be swift to take advantage of any wrong ministerial step. And there are those on the old Left and old Right of the Labour party who may quietly hope that New Labour will come an embarrassing cropper. But this is the flotsam and jetsam of politics, and significantly more of Mr Blair's critics are concerned about the government's direction because they want it to achieve more, not because they want to destroy it. Outright oppositionists should not be confused with malcontents and worriers.

Most important is whether the government's policies arc right, and whether it is pursuing them with adequate thoroughness. The answer to the first question is yes; to the second, not entirely.

A strong public service ethos - and rising incomes and morale among staff - have flowed back into the National Health Service and education. …

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