Tony Blair speaking in Trimdon Labour club in Sedgefield as an election campaign nears … brings back a few memories. His constituency was always an important part of his politics, not just the place that selected him to be candidate, but also the place where he found the support and the confidence needed to push at the outer edges of modernisation.
Before TB became leader, Labour had never won two successive full terms. Today, there is the distinct possibility of a fourth, and a lot of that is down to the basic ‘New Labour New Britain’ approach under his leadership. .
Former leaders rarely fit easily into the political landscape. Ex-Tory leaders have tended to cause trouble for their successors, though David Cameron has fared better on that front.
One after another, Labour leaders on the other hand have shown pretty much constant support for those who follow them, a point brought into sharp relief at Michael Foot’s funeral recently. Michael’s politics was in many ways different to TB’s, but I never heard him say a harsh word about TB, GB, Neil Kinnock or John Smith. It is no secret that TB and GB at times said harsh words not just about each other but to each other, amid what was otherwise in many ways an extraordinarily productive political relationship.
But TB knows enough about leadership to know that when it came to the economic crisis, GB provided it, and that his decisions helped prevent a crisis from become a disaster.
He knows enough about leadership and the importance of strategy in politics to know that David Cameron has been lacking in both.
The Tories like to say they have done what we did in ‘modernising’ their party. But they have done no such thing. They lack any sort of strategic clarity. On Europe, they have gone rightwards. On crime, they have gone leftwards. On the economy, as George Osborne’s national insurance cut showed yesterday, they move all over the place according to what they detect to be the prevailing wind.
At least people have a fair idea what the Labour Party stands for. Nobody has a clue what today’s Tories stand for, least of all themselves.
At a Labour fundraiser in Yorkshire last night, I asked the audience what a Tory pledge card would look like. It raised a laugh, unintentionally, which I would suggest is bad news for the Tories.
In Opposition, we worked hard to ensure the key questions about us were more or less answered by the time we got to polling day. It is an extraordinary indictment of Cameron’s leadership that as the campaign starts, the question marks are growing bigger, and the answers becoming less clear.
Ps – another day, another Tory poster, this time with a picture of GB and an ironic slogan. Sometimes irony doesn’t fly though. Hence the driver who picked me up yesterday saying ‘I see you’ve got a new poster up. Gordon’s looking good.’
*** Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash for Labour http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.