On the day Saddam Hussein’s statue came down in 2003, I was at the East Midlands Labour Party HQ in Barratt Lane near Nottingham standing next to then regional secretary, Roy Kennedy, watching it on Sky News. The concern on Roy’s face was evident. So I asked, “What do you think?” Roy said bluntly, in his London Cockney brogue, “They’d better find those weapons, mate.” Roy is now in the House of Lords. There were no WMDs.
I was one of the first Americans to go work for Tony Blair’s New Labour in the UK in 1997, after being Bill Clinton’s 1996 Ohio GOTV State Director. That’s why Labour hired me – for the GOTV expertise. David Axelrod, you’re welcome.
Thus, I was at the very center of the Blair era, for three general election victories, plus Labour’s inaugural campaign for London mayor in 2000, plus a few party conferences. I brought Labour staff to work with me in the former soviet republics training political parties, and brought even more to the US for the Al Gore campaign in 2000. I love and cherish all the friends I made in Tony Blair’s Labour. I even tried to do a documentary film on it all once at party conference in Brighton in 2001; they couldn’t get rid of me.
As the Republican Party (and Hillary Clinton) knows all too well, there has yet to be a fair account and reckoning politically for Iraq, and that includes Tony Blair and New Labour. That is one root of this month’s thrashing at the hands of British voters. That’s not all that Labour must reckon with before voters trust them again with the time of day.
The target of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, today’s rigged game, which has created the first American generation that expects to do worse than the generations before it, was built mostly by New Democrats, and New Labour. We were the indispensable “progressive” window dressing on capital’s dismantling of the New Deal compromise.
Just look at what Blair’s ballot stuffing “reforms” left behind in the medieval City of London, a rogue state standing atop a mountain of systemic offshore financial risk, utterly uncommented upon by anyone in the Labour Party’s London collection of powerless elected officials, even as they select another candidate for London Mayor in 2016 who is just as silent on the matter, and who upon election will remain without jurisdiction over the Square Mile. I had never realized the role I played rigging that particular game in 2000 until I studied it this semester 15 years later as a student at Cleveland State. No zeal quite like that of the recently converted.
After Labour’s 2015 defeat, a campaign in which no Labour candidate would dare be seen in their presence, we now hear from Blair, Alan Johnson, Peter Mandelson, John Prescott, who, incredibly, argued after the election that Ed Miliband should have campaigned on the banking bailout. This predictable parade of Blairite lords and ladies, at this point indistinguishable from Mitt Romney, lectures us that Labour needs to stay “aspirational”, as if one can aspire to anything in a rigged game. Lord Mandelson is even pimping to be the new leader Chuka Umunna, a City of London “employment” lawyer (read: outsourcing and union busting) straight out of the City’s offshore petri dish. It’s become comical.
Is anyone awake in Britain? Does it not bother me old mates that Jim Messina, late of Barack Obama, now takes credit for electing Tories, and next shall cash in on Hillary Clinton? Are the lights on? There’s a reason Democrats want to push Hillary leftward for a solid two years. No one joins the Democratic Party, or the Labour Party, to start wars based on lies, or rig their country and the world for plutocrats and oligarchs, but turns out that’s exactly what we did. Some of us are in a mood to reverse that course.
Labour members know better. It isn’t 1997 anymore. The days when a Labour staffer could fool a Trot into missing a key policy vote at conference by offering them tea are well over. The blinders are off, voters know to their bones the game is rigged, quite aware of who rigged it, and to those voters, Labour in 2015 stands for nothing other than access to power. No matter how many vapidly facile “pledges” get carved into an Ed Stone, when a party loses trust this badly, voters do not wish to hear how aspirationally sincere a party’s rigged noncredible leadership claims to be.
Labour’s conference is again in Brighton this September. Before deciding on a new leader, Labour needs to hold a broad, inclusive, loud, air-clearing debate at party conference in Brighton, hold itself to account, rebuild credibility from the bottom up, and begin the long struggle of unrigging this game. A party called Labour ought to be counted on for at least that. Across the pond, we could use the help.