Midwives Standing Together – When We Have Had #ENOUGH


There are many good people  in working reponsible roles in society. They are not earning a fortune; they are doing jobs because they care, careers they are proud of – because they want to make a difference.

But caring is not enough. Everyone derserves a life, a family, a home. The government’s treatment of our skilled health professionals, on whom we depend for our lives is appalling.  Staff are working long shifts with no mealtimes, with wages frozen and no prospects of improving conditions. Remember this is in  one of the richest countries in the world, one where where bankers have bonuses, where  global corporations hold democracy to ransom, and where they seek to silence dissent. We should be ashamed. Now it is time to say, “Enough”!

This plea from Hayley, a midwife,  is calling time on this government’s treatment of our workers, on the erosion of our public services. We will take no more.

A Midwife’s Call for An End  to Abuse of Good Will

By Hayley Huntoon

Twitter: @hayleyhuntoon

Yesterday a man came to me livid with frustration ‘this is not good enough’. He told me ‘my daughter has been waiting hours to be seen’ . He went on to tell me, ‘it isn’t you. It isn’t the other midwives – the care has been impeccable but the situation just isn’t good enough.’

I know. I agree. I have shed too many tears over a career I could not love more because there is nothing I can do. What he didn’t know was that heartbreakingly this is a daily occurrence in my life as a midwife. What he didn’t know was that actually yesterday was a rare Saturday off for me yet I had come into work so that my amazing colleagues could have a break from their 13 hour shift. A break they won’t be paid for whether they take it or not, but that they physically need as human beings. I had come into the unit so that women like his daughter could be seen. So that our unit could be open to women who needed our skills as midwives, doctors, health care professionals. Women who were in labour. Women who’s babies weren’t moving much. Women who were concerned about their own wellbeing.

5 maternity units in the north-west have been closed over the weekend. These women need our care. We are literally being worked to the ground. I am watching amazing midwives leave a profession they love because the workload and stress is too high.

Today is a rare Sunday off for me. But I will be spending it supporting our rights as workers. The NHS is run on good will. But there is only so much we can take. We joke at work that midwives don’t need to eat. To rehydrate. To empty our bladders. To sleep. Let us look after ourselves so that we can look after our women. Our future generation of children.

Earlier this year, our country voted for a government that said no to more midwives. The Conservative party have demonstrated five years of austerity, falling living standards, pay freezes and huge cuts to public services. They have threatened to make cuts to our night shift and weekend enhancements. Over the past 4 years I have missed Christmas days. New Years days. Family’s birthdays. Countless nights out. I had a good education and did very well at school. I am 22. I have held the hands of women through the most emotional times of their lives. I have dressed Angels we have had to say goodbye too. I have supported women to make decisions that empower them. I have been scared myself. Tired, stressed, emotional every day. Yet I am not and will not be paid well like my friends who have chosen business careers. I am not offered pay rises for my efforts or successes. I don’t care because I get something more valuable than that from what I do. I love what I do. I’m passionate about what I do that’s why I do it. But I do care that we are the ones who are being threatened with further cuts. Further strain.


So today I stand with doctors, midwives, nurses, teachers, firemen and many other amazing people to spread awareness of a situation that has gone too far. To share information that the general public are oblivious to because as midwives, we will not let these women be failed. I am regularly met by stunned responses from women and their partners to the situation they watch me working under. But Hayleytoday I say no. Enough is enough.

I have shed too many tears over a career I love. Missed too many meal breaks. Not physically been able to care for too many women the way I wanted to. Spent too many days off in work. Lost too much sleep over the stress I am under. Watched more of my colleagues than I could count (myself included) be signed off work with stress in the early years of their career. Watched too many good midwives leave careers they love. This is not humane.

Please let’s end this. Protect your NHS. Your children’s future. Your education system. The core foundations of Great Britain.

I have recently learned the world is a selfish place. But I have also learned that there are a lot of very good people in it. The NHS is run on good will and because of this we have been pushed too far. Let’s change this.

Further Reading:

What do the Labour Right think will happen if ‘they get their party back’?


To be honest, I’m a bit mystified by the pronouncements of the Labour ‘modernisers’. Their thinking doesn’t seem to make any sense.

In the last two weeks, since Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership with 59.5% of the vote, we’ve heard Charles Clark say “It’s obviously been a very bad week for him.” (?) and that Yvette Cooper is waiting in the wings to take over as Labour leader if Jeremy Corbyn gets fed up with the job (?).

Much more ominously, there are ‘reports that elements of the British Army may rebel if Jeremy Corbyn is elected Prime Minister, and a serving general quoted as saying that “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it”.

Has it been a bad couple of weeks for JC?

Off the top of my head, he has put together a huge and an inclusive shadow cabinet, which comprises 52% women; made a very successful speech at the TUC and gained praise for his appearance at PMQs.  If that’s a bad week, then let’s have more of them.

However, as Phil Burton-Cartledge writes:

 ‘Driven by the press and then echoed by the broadcasters, the media assault on Jeremy Corbyn this week has perhaps been the most scurrilous, smeary, and desperate I have ever seen.’

Richard Seymour sees this as a continuation of what he calls Project Fear in which the Labour Right has tried to frighten JC supporters but he says:

‘.. there will be war in the Labour Party. Project Fear was just the panicked, clearly ineffectual start. And in that war, the right wing will have the backing of the media, the spooks, the civil service, and a good chunk of the membership.’

John Rentoul agrees that ‘..there won’t be defections. There will be a civil war instead.’

He continues to write of the Labour MPs:

‘How many of them could say, in their heart of hearts, that Corbyn should be prime minister?  Eagle is tribal Labour, but I know more than one MP, and there must be many more, who, asked to choose privately between Osborne, who is likely to be leader of the Conservative Party by then, and Corbyn, would reluctantly prefer Osborne.… But Labour MPs are not going to defect.  It is their party, and they intend to take it back.  It would be hard for them to fight an election with Corbyn as leader and, perhaps even more so, with McDonnell in a senior position, but they don’t think Corbyn is going to last.’

So the Labour Right’s plan seems to be at least partly based on Jeremy Corbyn getting fed up with their machinations and resigning.  Then Yvette will step into the breach, untainted by association with the Shadow Cabinet (unlike Andy Burnham who gained 2% more support than Yvette in the leadership contest).   It seems like a fair guess that the ex-ministers who flounced off (refusing to serve even before they were offered posts) intend to form a Shadow-Shadow Cabinet.  Charles Clark remarked in a television interview the party was preparing to fight the next election without the newly appointed leader.


So what do they think would happen then?  Do they think that the 49% of full members who voted for JC, and the 60k new members who have joined since JC was elected, will welcome Yvette, Chuka, Tristam, Liz et al with open arms as the saviours of the LP?

Isn’t it much more likely that they will be blamed for undermining JC and crashing the LP?

Quite apart from the logistics of Tom Watson being elected as Deputy leader and the likelihood of a new leadership contest, I would make a fair guess that there would be a mass exodus of JC supporters if Yvette were to be parachuted in… and how likely is she to be elected?  Even with Liz Kendall and Yvette’s votes combined, they gained less than 22%.

Nevertheless, according to Luke Akehurst’s ‘conventional wisdom’:

Some of his grassroots supporters will go through the same painful process of awakening and political education that led to many Bennite activists becoming successively Kinnockite then Blairite in the 1980s and 1990s. Their idealism didn’t survive repeated interaction with electoral defeat and hostile working class voters on the doorstep. It’s natural to want to win. And people get older and in many cases their politics matures.

Trade unions will get fed up with not being able to deliver on pay and conditions and public spending for their public sector members because we don’t have a Labour government (they may also get jittery if we lose councils as they would prefer to negotiate with Labour employers not Tories).

MPs will feel they have to act or the electorate will sack them.

At least, Luke Akehurst sheds a little bit of doubt – ‘if conventional wisdom does prove correct’…. What conventional wisdom?  What planet do these professional politicians live on?

Can’t they see that whatever else happens over the next 5y, the political landscape has changed.  Globally, social democratic parties’ collusion with neoliberalism is being rejected and the electorate is polarizing between the far right and the left.  If JC fails, the LP under a Blairite/Brownite, committed to austerity-lite will, almost certainly go the way of Pasok. They had already lost 5m voters by 2005… and now they’ve lost the two subsequent general elections!

I could say more about the hubris and extraordinary sense of self-entitlement that has been revealed by the posturings of the former LP elite.  However, least said…

As far as I can see it, the choice for the Labour Right in the PLP is to join in the democratic debate and put their weight behind JC as leader, or ‘win their party back’ and reduce the LP to a hollow shell.

To improbably quote Blair’s old friend and member of JC’s Shadow Cabinet:

Asked whether Mr Blair was “right or wrong” to say that Mr Corbyn “is not going to be prime minister”, Lord Falconer said: “I have no idea. What we’ve got to do, to try to do is to make Labour an effective opposition and we need to try to make Labour a party that the public think can govern.” 

However, there is a very real danger to worry about, and it is not the rubbish about the national anthem, rugby matches and so on.

With reports that elements of the British Army may rebel if Jeremy Corbyn is elected Prime Minister, and a serving general quoted as saying “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it”, it seems that some in our established institutions regard democracy as optional.  We are allowed to make our choice, but if they do not regard it as an acceptable choice then they may feel perfectly entitled to disregard it.

As Bernadette Mearden writes:

Does the British establishment, in its entirety, really believe in democracy? Perhaps for some elements, the best reply to that would be – up to a point.

So is there any hope for Democracy?  Noam Chomsky was askedWhat is your opinion on the emergence of figures such as Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Pablo Iglesias in Spain, or Bernie Sanders in the US?  Is a new left movement on the rise, or are these just sporadic responses to the economic crisis?’  He replied:

It depends what the popular reaction is. Take Corbyn in England: he’s under fierce attack, and not only from the Conservative establishment, but even from the Labour establishment. Hopefully Corbyn will be able to withstand that kind of attack; that depends on popular support. If the public is willing to back him in the face of the defamation and destructive tactics, then it can have an impact. Same with Podemos in Spain.

Chomsky is right.   If the public is willing to back him in the face of the defamation and destructive tactics, then a left movement which reaches out internationally, and particularly across Europe, can create the conditions for a better world.  However, the call to fascism by the army general does not argue for an easy transition.  Before we get to that point, the Labour Right will have to decide whose side they’re on.










The Battle to save the NHS


The crisis in the NHS grinds on inexorably.  In just the last day, former LD health minister, Norman Lamb warns that the healthcare system will crash in two years and says Tories are being dishonest over crisis.   Furthermore, NHS junior doctors have condemned a new contract imposed on them, fearing that it will cut their pay by up to 40%, force them to work more antisocial shifts and put some off becoming GPs or A&E medics.

They have pledged to resist the move by ministers, which they say is “bad for patients, bad for junior doctors and bad for the NHS”. The joint leader of the 53,000 junior doctors in England affected has indicated that they may even go on strike in protest.

Tony O’Sulivan sets out the current position in the piece below, re-posted from openDemocracy

The NHS stays centre stage as the political ground shakes

By Tony O’Sullivan – Consultant Paediatrician and member of Keep Our NHS Public and the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign.  First posted 14.09.15 openDemocracy

The English NHS is likely to stay centre stage in political fights.  New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s first official visit as Labour Party leader was to Camden & Islington NHS Mental Health Trust yesterday.  His new shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, last night highlighted his opposition to the EU/US TTIP trade deal which many see as a huge threat to the NHS.  And – uniquely amongst leadership contenders,  Corbyn is a signatory to the NHS Bill 2015 – which aims to reinstate the NHS and was re-tabled in Parliament by Caroline Lucas, Green MP with cross-party support on July 1st.

Yesterday, Corbyn wrote

“We as a labour movement have to be strong enough to stand up and ensure that we have a system that prevents anyone falling into destitution, supports those going through mental health crises and ends the internal market and privatisation of our health service.”


Later today, parliament will debate a vote of no confidence in health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, after two petitions calling for such a debate attracted over 300,000 signatures – though the Government has relegated it down from the main chamber of the House of Commons, to the significantly more low-key Westminster Hall venue.  Doctors have been asked to ensure their MP attends this debate and to ensure the focus is on Hunt and his record.

NHS campaigners will be out in force to show the Government the depth of feeling for the NHS and against Conservative ideological direction at the Tory Party conference in Manchester on 3-7 October.

The greater openness of political debate, first in the Scottish independence referendum and now in the Labour Party leadership election, means that many more will be ready to get involved.  And we must be ready to respond to every anti-NHS argument.

The ideological untruths and practical assaults on the NHS and public sector that we saw under the coalition government are being ramped up under the new Tory government.

If a public service is starved of essential finance for long enough it will start to fail – and the NHS is no exception.  Just earlier this month, GPs in Worcestershire were told not to refer patients to local NHS hospitals for three months so that they could clear a backlog – and encouraged to pay private hospitals to take patients in the meantime.

The NHS is ‘broken’, wrote James Bartholomew in the Telegraph electing to place the NHS bottom of the pile of European health systems.  He concludes that the ‘failed’ NHS must be replaced by a compulsory insurance system, such as that of Switzerland.

In the UK of course, there is a compulsory contribution to the NHS from public taxation made in the UK.  The great difference is that the UK system is not run for profit and is free at the point of need.

This principle makes the NHS far more cost effective – out-performingSwitzerland in effectiveness and value for money according to a 2015 Commonwealth Fund report.

No doubt other systems have lessons that we can learn from.

But Bartholomew’s argument is a purely ideological one. Like the Government, he wants us to equate publicly funded health systems with failure.

His 2004 book The Welfare State We’re In was praised by Thatcher’s guru, Milton Friedman, as “a devastating critique of the welfare state”.  During the 2010 pre-election period, Bartholomew advocated the abolition of the NHS on Radio 4.

Our NHS has been amazingly effective despite ongoing underfunding compared to other advanced national health systems.  Just why is it that the NHS has lower number of doctors and acute hospital beds per 1000 population and second lowest number of MRI scanners per million compared to other advanced European health systems?  It is a failure of funding rather than a failure of the NHS.  It receives less funding than the OECD average and less than the European comparators.

Nonetheless, the Commonwealth Fund’s comparative analysis of 11 advanced national health services, using data and surveys from 2010-13, placed the USA bottom and the NHS top.  The NHS was best in 8 out of 11 criteria and was the most cost-effective national health system.

In fact, despite significant underfunding, the NHS has punched above its weight for three generations.

It is now under threat from cleverly disguised ideology, worsening cuts, PFI payments and privatisation, not from its ‘failure’.  The failure to adequately fund front-line NHS services over the last five years has increased waiting lists.  We need more GPs, hospital doctors, more nurses and therapists and better equipment.  Not an insurance based system such as the USA or Switzerland.  The USA spends double the UK on health but over 30% of that funding is wasted on private insurance administration and profit margins.  In insurance-based health systems, the incentive of profit regarding who gets investigations, procedures and treatments, can be a more powerful motive than what is bestfor the patient.

Efforts to privatise whole swathes of health services have failed to deliver more effective care and are proving more costly.  We now face a national health service increasingly without national coordination of standards, with shrinking resources and accelerating fragmentation.  This will devastate patient care pathways which rely on many services cooperating together (including social care).

We must get back the NHS.  In the example of New Zealand we can see the immediate benefits if we succeed.  New Zealand privatised their health service in 1993.  Perverse incentives dominated and costs escalated.  The new 1999 government looked this failure in the eye.  They made a political decision to act on the evidence and renationalised their health service in 2000 with clear benefits.  Following the calamitous Christchurch earthquake of 2010, public conclusions were that the privatised and fragmented health service would not have been able to respond to such magnificent effect as New Zealand’s reinstated NHS.

There is one category where the UK comes out close to bottom in international comparisons like the Commonwealth Fund (though still above the USA).

It’s ‘healthy lives’, a category which reflects more specifically health inequality: the effects of poverty, education and societal attitudes to promoting early child development (see the Marmot Review).

The greatest single determinant of health outcomes is of course poverty. The impoverishment of the British people through austerity, unemployment, low wages and zero hour contracts, the mental and physical stress that places on us, coupled with the assault on the funding of the NHS and escalating privatisation, means that the battle to save our NHS is more important than ever.

With additional reporting by Caroline Molloy.

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Blair’s Coup d’Etat or Why the PLP is so right wing


In the same way, as the dark side of the EU project was exposed by the Greek crisis, the campaign leading to Jeremy Corbyn’s staggering win of the Labour Leadership has exposed the gulf between the grassroots and the Westminster establishment.  So how did this happen?  Why are the vast majority of Labour MPs so far to the right of the grassroots’ membership?

The following review of political scientist Lewis Minkin’s book, The Blair Supremacy: A Study in the Politics of Labour’s Party Management  goes a long way to explain how the left were excluded from becoming MPs during the Blair/Brown era.  It is particularly insightful because the review is written by Alan Simpson who was a prominent left wing MP who experienced first hand the Blair years.


The Blair Supremacy under Scrutiny

By former Nottingham South MP Alan Simpson

Reading Lewis Minkin’s new book The Blair Supremacy: A Study in the Politics of Labour’s Party Management is like sitting alongside a skilled forensic scientist as he dissects the multi-layered elements that contributed to the death of the body in front of him.  This isn’t quite where Blair left the Labour Party, but it’s not far short.  The book reads like a thriller.   What makes it captivating is Minkin’s grasp of the scrupulous planning that went into Blair’s managerialist coup, which, for a time, took ownership of both the Labour Party and the country.  Minkin reports a ‘wry comment from Blair describing “New Labour” as “the newest political party on the scene and the smallest.  It has about five people.”’  ‘From within New Labour,’ Minkin continues, ‘the takeover of the party by this small minority was quietly and sometimes boastfully acknowledged to be a coup d’etat over the party.’

Minkin describes it as a ‘rolling coup’ in that ‘it involved a series of unilateral major moves over several years’.  These moves are what the book reveals.

I once described how the Blairite revolution turned Labour from a political party into a Tupperware party, but I was wrong.  The description is far too benign.  No one falls out of love with Tupperware, at least not in the way the country fell out of love with Blair.  Tupperware is also as useful to the poor as to the rich.  And Tupperware never stripped meaning and values from everything it touched.  Blairism did.  In doing so, it ruthlessly exploited (and then dumped) a lot of decent people whose lives had been devoted to the Labour Party.

Even today, many of these – MPs as well as party loyalists – have difficulty acknowledging how extensively, and cynically, they were taken for such a ride.  For them, the book should be compulsory reading.

If it has a weakness, Minkin’s analysis falls short only in the absence of a meta-narrative; this is something like explaining the Chilean coup without any reference to the USA. I shall return to this later.

Reluctant admiration

The Blairite plan was never just to lead the Labour Party, but to emasculate it.  To do so, every aspect of the party’s machinery of governance had to be subjugated to the leader’s whim.  Minkin takes the reader on a step-by-step journey through this process and the machinations that lay behind it.  Minkin describes the greatest unity of the small vanguard of ‘modernisers’ as their shared ‘negative appraisal of the party, including and particularly its affiliated unions and associated collective body – the TUC.’

Minkin’s dissection covers the entirety of my parliamentary life (and more).  It always puzzled me how, despite all the warnings and bollockings, I never got expelled from the parliamentary party.  Now I know.

It wasn’t that Blair’s ultras lacked a desire for purges; it was just that they screwed up more often than they expected.  Their ‘managerialist’ obsessions, which politically house-trained the party, created a space in which MPs, whips and others still backed away from pooing on their own carpet.  The machine knew that Blair would get the blame – ultimate proof that his control‑freakery had no limits.  And since protecting the leader had already displaced promoting the party as the Supremacy’s overriding duty, the hounds always got called off.

To be fair, some of this was also down to the wiser counsel of whips such as Nick Brown and George Mudie.  Both were better people than the Supremacy deserved, and it was good to see Minkin recognise this in his description of events.  I guess that many of the Labour rebels were also saved by divisions between the Blair and Brown camps, in what was to become the running distraction throughout the Labour years in government.

The Blair-Brown distraction

For me, the friction between these two characters – equally damaged, equally obsessive – was often a manipulated divide, spun out to lock the parliamentary party into the smallness of playground politics rather than the bigger canvas of real politics.  Loyalty invariably displaced integrity (or clarity) in the debates of the day.

Minkin captures this brilliantly in his description of the seminal moments surrounding New Labour’s first internal rebellion – the vote on lone parent benefits.  ‘Dealing with the issue of a cut in lone parent benefit became a significant landmark in the early management of New Labour in government, and had major consequences.  For Blair and Brown,’ Minkin surmises, ‘showing prudence and control on this was all the more important because the left-wing Campaign group appeared to them to be the driving force of a limited opposition.  They, the usual suspects, had to be faced down and publicly pulled into line some time or the other, so why not over this early issue and now?’

Minkin describes much of this as a tactical misjudgment on Brown’s part rather than a cynical move on Blair’s.  Standing in the middle of it felt slightly different.  Many of us saw no real divide between Blair and Brown.  Neither showed an ability to step back and accept they may have got something wrong.  Both were obsessed with demonstrating their power as leaders.  Loyalty and obedience became articles of faith, outside of which Labour’s world would crumble.

In the same way that the Mafia asks you to destroy something precious to demonstrate loyalty, Labour MPs were asked to give a kicking to some of the most vulnerable in society.  This was a difficult step for many to take.

For the machine, however, it was the first big test of their ability to put the squeeze on people; and there were members of both the Blair and Brown camps who loved it.  MPs could be leaned on, cajoled, abused or bullied, all in the name of loyalty.  Many had their constituency officials phoned and told to kick their MPs into line.  Some had their families phoned and told not to get too comfortable with an MP’s life because they would be thrown out before the next election.  All were told it was New Labour (i.e. Blair) that they owed allegiance to.  Conscience was a liability, not an asset.

Both Blair and Brown may have wished to run with their ultras’ demands for a purge of the 47 rebels who ignored these entreaties, but the impact on the parliamentary party was different.  Most were reluctant to expel those who went into a division lobby that their hearts told them they should have been in too.  It established an achilles heel that was (fortunately) to remain throughout the Supremacy.

Lies, damn lies and New Labour

One of the strengths of Lewis Minkin’s book is its description of how all the groundwork for this managerial coup had been done long before the 1997 election.  The machine may have been surprised by the scale of the Labour victory but it already knew that it would rule by manipulation and disinformation, rather than through a new era of democratic engagement.

When Blair talked of ‘an unbroken line of accountability’, he meant everyone, and everything, being accountable to him.  His (initial) personal popularity was played out in talk of ‘direct democracy’ – a leader connecting directly to the people.  It was a great way of sidelining every structure of accountability that the party had ever created.  Minkin describes this with painful accuracy.

Minkin details how ‘the Blair coup’ set out to turn the parliamentary left into ‘a sealed tomb’: one that would not be re‑opened by new, dissenting, Labour MPs entering parliament.  Under the guise of ‘improving the quality of candidates’, Blair’s machine filleted the panel of those approved for selection by ‘eliminating candidates who “appeared not to have a pragmatic line on policy disagreements”’.

At the heart of what Minkin calls the ‘rolling coup’ was Blair himself – vulnerable, charismatic, insecure and obsessive – the centrepiece of a giant political Ponzi scheme.  Truth was always a moveable feast.  Statistics, or supportive polling data, would always be found to justify the latest move to ‘marketise’ and individualise everything advanced by New Labour.  It wasn’t just Clause Four that Blair wanted shut of; it was the whole notion of collectivism.  Business, particularly big business, wanted none of it.

So it was that, under the guise of new social partnerships, huge tranches of the social fabric of Britain were transferred into the pockets of the private sector.  My only quibble with Minkin is that this was as much Brown’s agenda as Blair’s.  The debacle of PFI and PPP debts that remain tied round the neck of public services is their common legacy to the country, not just a Blairite one.

The shadow of Nuremberg

Without doubt Blair was a consummate performer, with an unparalleled ability to lie for any cause.  It is only fitting, however, that his greatest lie should be the source of his ultimate undoing. On most issues he simply moved on and the machine behind him swept contradictory evidence under the nearest carpet.  But war doesn’t work like that – not, at least, when it is a war of choice.

As the chair of Labour Against the War, I knew how far we had gone to bring real ‘evidence’ within the reach of MPs.  Weapons inspectors had come into parliament, assuring us they had no evidence of any remaining weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).  International diplomats had arrived urging more time, and more diplomacy.  We even circulated our own detailed pamphlet to all Labour MPs on the eve of the Commons debate, dismantling the claims made in Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’.  But most of us knew that Blair had already promised Bush the war he was looking for.  Nothing was going to deflect Blair from his own jihadist inclinations.

Minkin is right in depicting the debate as one of Blair’s most outstanding parliamentary moments.  It was where he pushed ‘Trust me’ and ‘If you only knew what I know’ to its limits.  It was some achievement to get decent people to vote in ways that Nuremberg would have judged an inadmissible defence.

But the war, its consequences and the absence of WMDs turned out to be Blair’s unforgivable sin – the lie that will dog him to the end of his days.  Hubris had given the public, and the party, something to hate him for.

The meta-narrative

The only thing Lewis Minkin’s book lacks is a wrap-around.  For all we come to understand about the ‘how’ of Blair’s rolling coup, there is nothing that addresses the ‘why’.  It isn’t enough to put it all down to control-freakery.  To learn anything from this, we have to put it in a context.  Psychologically, Blair was always drawn towards wealth and celebrity, and has draped himself in more of it than can ever buy forgiveness.  His favoured acolytes all went the same way, becoming payroll beneficiaries in everything Blair privatised.  But the brains are to be found elsewhere.

My take is that Blair had long been groomed by the neoliberalism that was running away with American politics.  The agenda was not to make Labour ‘business-friendly’ but big business-compliant.  The global agenda of the time was about turning public services into corporate profit streams.

Deregulation of financial markets, the World Trade Organisation, the TRIPS agreement on intellectual property rights and a series of US adventurist wars were all part of a bigger project.  The creation of new global creatures – corporate citizens – required the creation of new cultural norms within which they could flourish.  Rights were to be transferred from citizens to corporations.  Duties went the other way.  Somewhere along this trajectory from citizens to serfs is where we are now.

Blair was not the architect of this.  His shallowness, vanity and venal interests just made him a willing partner.  The real Supremacy lay elsewhere.

Accolades to the invisible

Some, in parliament, understood this.  And it is in a tribute to them that I want to end this review.  The Campaign group of Labour MPs barely figure in Minkin’s book, but they were the only bolt-hole of real political thought that I found throughout my parliamentary years.  Some of their leading voices get no mention at all, yet they were the MPs you would always find on picket lines, at trade union and social movement rallies, on anti-war marches and at the forefront of campaigns to restore rather than exploit the planet.

Epitomised by Tony Benn, these were the Labour MPs – socialists – who set out to explain that we always had bigger and better choices open to us than the Supremacy would have had us to believe.  Of course, it is sad that neither the trade union movement nor the party had the courage to wrap itself around those holding out this bigger vision.  But if Labour is to salvage anything from the superficiality of the Blair experience it will be the knowledge that we cannot manage our way out of the current crisis, any more than we can shop our way out.

The world is locked into a series of crises for which corporate feudalism has no answer; crises not susceptible to individualised solutions.  Tomorrow’s security will only be found if we grasp just how interdependent we really are.  Solutions will have to be on the scale of a new post-1945 settlement – with the planet as much as ourselves.

Tony Blair was never going to be relevant to this.  But the very thing whose removal came to symbolise his rise to the Supremacy – Clause Four of the Labour Party constitution – could well be.  What if common interests and common ownership/stewardship turn out to be the only viable form of tomorrow’s politics?  Think about it: the return of Clause Four – in local, national and global terms.  Now that would really piss him off.

The Blair Supremacy: A Study in the Politics of Labour’s Party Management by Lewis Minkin is published by Manchester University Press. Alan Simpson was the Labour MP for Nottingham South from 1992 to 2010

Campaign briefing – CLPD Autumn edition 2015 issue no. 79

First posted in Red Pepper 

Related post – http://think-left.org/2012/06/04/new-labour-excluded-the-parliamentary-left-in-a-sealed-tomb/