Labour needs a better narrative

Labour has rarely been kind to the party's former leaders.   The memberships, or activists at least, are quick to slate them as 'traitors'.  Decades later, the view is different.

This was certainly so with Harold Wilson who was despised on the right of the party and abandoned by the left.  Labour tends to over-state its failures and minimise its successes.   Now we look back and see how successful Wilson was in the circumstances of his time.

This has also been so with Tony Blair.  The record of Tony Blair's government is remarkable by any standard.  His sin, for the left of Labour, was that he hunted with the hare and the hounds.  He set out to make capitalism work better.  It was a laudable aim and his achievements were considerable.

Blair's government massively increased funding of the NHS and waiting lists and times tumbled.  It made inroads in reducing child poverty with targetted policies.  It reduced pensioner poverty.  It put more police officers on the streets.  It produced remarkable constitutional reform with devolution to the nations, and it pushed the peace process in Northern Ireland to an agreement.

It transformed our human rights laws and introduced openness and accountability with freedom of information legislation and the Human Rights Act in 1998.

But this article isn't written simply to praise Tony Blair.  It is to make the point that very little of this achievement has been presented by the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.   Even the minimum wage was a major achievement of the Blair years.   The Labour Party should be writing its history and not leaving it to others to denigrate it.

When I left school in 1964, I went to work in a branch of the Home Office.  It was just at the time of the first Wilson Government with a slender majority after thirteen long Tory years.  Most of those working in the office were shocked by the result of the election that October. My immediate superior told me that Wilson would bankrupt the country, just as they had done under Attlee.

I found that odd, given that the Attlee government had achieved so much, but I was sixteen and a bit wet behind the ears.

Of course, Labour did not bankrupt the country.  When I read the history of it I found that not only had Attlee's government introduced the welfare state and the NHS but that during the years that followed the war the national debt plummetted.  Of course, it would because we were no longer funding the war.  But increased welfare spending and spending on infrastructure didn't bankrupt the country.

On the contrary,  as people were put back to work and wages rose, so tax revenue increased to pay for social funding.  Libraries and schools and council housing were built.  People's lives were transformed, and opportunities created.  My generation, in particular, benefited substantially from the welfare state.

Decades have passed since then, and we can now see that far from Labour governments bankrupting the country, they tend to run smaller budget deficits!  Their record on the economy is, in general, just as good if not better than the Tories.

The Tories tend at some point to push up unemployment, and paying for that increased the budget deficit under the Tories.

But if you consider the perceptions.  The generally held view is that the Tories are good with the economy and Labour bad.     This is why it was easy enough for Boris Johnson to suggest that Labour always left the country in an economic crisis.   It remained unchallenged.  But it is wrong.  It is a distortion of history.

But that distorted history is aided by the tendency of the left to critique Labour governments.  They use the language of failure.  They call former leaders 'traitors'.  They question the 'socialist' credentials of former leaders.  But by doing so they add to the Tory narrative of socialist failure.

Already, the knives are out for Jeremy Corbyn.  He has not yet stood down, but he is being blamed for the election defeat.  Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonell have accepted their responsibility as leaders.  Yet the knives are plunged.   History is being written.  Blame apportioned.  Even the word 'traitor' is used.

Yet, this is before anyone has been able to fully reflect on what went wrong.

Of course, we all have our ideas on that.  But we should be wary of writing a Tory history of Labour.

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