Friday, 26 November 2010

I am a Socialist, says new Labour leader (Tony Blair, 1994)

Fact-check for Nicky Campbell, based on Fraser Nelson's Coffee House blog of Campbell's radio interview with Ed Miliband.

NC: Are you a socialist?

EM: Yeah, I am a socialist.

NC: Oh my goodness! We haven’t heard this from a Labour leader for a long long time. Can you just say it again? Can we run the tape?

Ed Miliband's answer isn't new. I blogged for the New Statesman about how all of the leadership candidate's personal definitions of what socialism might now mean were set out in the early Fabian hustings back in June.

But I guess the main point goes something like this:

Can you imagine Tony Blair of New Labour ever calling himself a Socialist when he wanted to get elected before 1997?

To which the answer is yes. If there is a difference with Ed Miliband it is only that one of the first things that Tony Blair did as Labour party leader was to write a Fabian pamphlet on the subject - which he gave the title Socialism - so keen was he to assert his own interpretation of the ethical socialist tradition. (But then Blair didn't have a new baby in his first few months, until he was in office much later!)

You can read Blair's ideological definition - there are only 7 pages of it - in the Fabian pamphlet archive on the LSE website.

You could certainly critique the content of Blair's Socialism. (Roy Hattersley didn't think much of the argument). Or you could argue that the pamphlet was or wasn't reflected in what Blair did in office between 1997 and 2007.

But what you could not possibly say that Tony Blair thought it would be electorally suicidal to use the term in public.

He did use the term. And he won a landslide.

So here is Tony Blair the socialist, as he prepared to rewrite Clause Four of the Labour Party in 1994:

The socialism of Marx, of centralised state control of industry and production, is dead. It misunderstood the nature and development of a modern market economy; it failed to recognise that state and public sector can become a vested interest capable of oppression as much as the vested interests of wealth and capital; and it was based on a false view of class that became too rigid to explain or illuminate the nature of class division today.

By contrast, socialism as defined by certain key values and beliefs is not merely alive, it has a historic opportunity now to give leadership. The basis of such socialism lies in its view that individuals are socially interdependent human beings - that individuals cannot be divorced from the society to which they belong. It is, if you will, social-ism.

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