Are you still Blairite? The Southend Against The Cuts meeting this evening

SATCAt the Southend Against The Cuts meeting tonight I was greeted by one supporter with “are you still Blairite?” SATC is a broad church of lefties, and to the gentleman who made this inquiry I am the wrong side of this coalition – he being a Communist Party member. I am no Blairite, although I thought he an excellent Prime Minister – despite my disagreeing with some of the things he did in his decade in power.

I am on no wing of the party, although I guess I am too close to the centre ground for some. I am, in reality, a mix of different strands, and do have some left-wing views on some subjects. However, I am proud that I have always described myself as Labour, and not slavishly allied to a particular camp.

I belong to Compass and the CLPD at the moment, and have been a Fabian and Progress member. I have also been described as a Brownite. If forced to pick a label I’d go for Pragmatic Labour.

The meeting tonight was not a discussion on where I sit on the left-right spectrum but rather about the upcoming SATC AGM, and recent events. I have been SATC’s Treasurer since it was created in 2010, but I have decided not to seek re-election this year. This is largely to do with deciding to handing on the mantle and wanting to tackle new challenges. It has to be said that whilst definitely unhappy with the way the Tories have implemented the cuts, I think I am more prepared to take a realistic stance than some others. I also, as a councillor, have to implement the cuts whether I like them or not.

SATC is also looking for a new Secretary as Julian Esposito is too busy to continue in this role. Anyone fancy doing this role, or Treasurer, can contact me.

The AGM is scheduled for 14th July (see flyer) and I have asked that amongst the topics discussed is voter engagement.

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Blair donation? Yes please!

I am Southend West Constituency Labour Party’s treasurer. In this role I manage the local party’s finances; and this includes the recording and banking of donations.

My legal obligations include ensuring that the donor is a registered voter, and I cannot accept anonymous donations. Since almost all donations are from party members this is quite straightforward.

I do not examine the beliefs of those who donate – they are members and supporters, and are donating to assist in electing us into the council chamber and Parliament.

I opposed the Iraq war. I have opposed many military interventions. My reservations about the Blair Premiership does not end there, but taken in the round those were good years for Labour and the UK.

I am standing for Parliament, but my seat is one that is not on a target list. However, if Tony Blair wants to donate to help me in my fight to oust Sir David Amess then I would gratefully receive it.

I am not going to criticise those who feel that they cannot accept Tony Blair’s generosity, although I wonder whether the membership of the local CLP has been consulted. I just know that raising much needed cash is always difficult (it is in Southend West anyway) and if Tony Blair wants to help an anti-war candidate then I am generous enough to accept.

I suggest that those who are troubled by Blair’s decision on Iraq concentrate on his many fine achievements: the minimum wage, more doctors and nurses in the NHS, refurbished and rebuilt schools, Sure Start, free admission to museums – and the list can go on.

Please make cheques out to ‘Southend West CLP’.

Tony Blair asks: the Tories – a change to what?

Tony Blair has given a speech at the Trimdon Labour Club today, in the constituency that he used to represent (Sedgefield).

I particularly liked the following passage:

So now our country has to debate the direction for our future. It’s a big thing for Labour to win a 4th term. Remember prior to 1997 Labour had never won two successive full terms. Now we have won three. So it’s a big moment for the Party; but of course, most of all, it is a momentous decision for the country.

The tough thing about being in government, especially as time marches on, is that the disappointments accumulate, the public becomes less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt, the call for a time to change becomes easier to make, prospect of change becomes more attractive. But as I always used to say when some in our ranks urged a mantra of “time for a change” in 1997, it is the most vacuous slogan in politics.

“Time for a Change” begs the question: change to what exactly? And the reason an election that seemed certain to some in its outcome, is now in sharp contention, lies precisely in that question.

As the issue has ceased to be “what makes me angry about the government”, and has focused instead on “if I get change, what change exactly am I getting”, so the race has narrowed. Because that is not a question readily or coherently answered; and in so far as it can be answered, gives as much cause for anxiety as for reassurance.

On some issues like racial equality the Conservatives have left behind the prejudices of the past. I welcome that.

But when it comes to the big policy issues, there is a puzzle that has turned into a problem that has now become a long hard pause for thought: Where are they centred?

Is there a core? Think of all the phrases you associate with their leadership and the phrase “you know where you are with them” is about the last description you would think of. They seem like they haven’t made up their mind about where they stand; and so the British public finds it hard to make up its mind about where it stands. In uncertain times, there is a lot to be said for certain leadership.

What happens after a long period of one party in Government, is this: the flipside of change being attractive, is that the public put a question mark over the Party seeking to be the change. It is not a cynical question mark. It is not loaded. It’s just a simple inquiry: what is it that I am getting?

The full speech can be read at http://www.labour.org.uk/tony-blair-speaks-to-trimdon-labour-club

I listened, I was impressed, I still disagreed

I have listened to most of Tony Blair’s performance at the Iraq inquiry today. I was opposed to the Iraq War from the outset, a war that I still believe was mistaken, but I took what I felt was the pragmatic decision not to protest, and to support our troops in combat. I hoped for a speedy resolution; in the end our exit has taken longer than I would have hoped, but it is within sight.

I thought at the time that Saddam Hussein posed no credible threat. Tony Blair believed otherwise. I am not one to call him a liar – I do not believe he lied. I also do not believe the war to be ‘illegal’, merely wrong.

I found our former PM’s performance impressive. You can see why David Cameron models himself on him, and why Gordon Brown pales in comparison. Gordon Brown does not have the media skills that Tony Blair has in abundance – few do. Gordon’s strengths lie elsewhere.

Those with strong opinions on either side of the Iraq debate will not have heard anything to change their minds today. Some in the anti brigade have entrenched views that will only be satisfied when Tony Blair faces trial in The Hague; they will forever be disappointed.

Fighting the wrong war does not make our former PM a war criminal. The real war criminals in Iraq are those perpetrating terrorist outrages. Thankfully Iraq appears to be heading towards normality.

I suspect that this inquiry will have the same fate as the previous ones – not believed by those who disagree with the outcome. I am prepared to keep an open mind; if Sir John Chilcott (who happens to share the same name as one of my direct antecedents) declares it illegal I will accept that. Democracy should mean accepting outcomes that do not necessarily tally with our initial prejudices. This does not mean agreeing with the war itself.

The ex factor

Tony Blair

Tony Blair

I wonder what role our former leaders will play in the forthcoming General Election campaign. We have four still with us.

Michael Foot is quite old (96) and I do not expect to play a role beyond expressing his suffrage.

Neil Kinnock is still very much active and is brought out from to time as an elder statesman. I expect him to continue in this role.

Occasionally overlooked, Margaret Beckett is our only female leader, albeit in a temporary role for a few months following John Smith’s untimely death. She will be very much involved, defending her Derby South seat if nothing else.

Tony Blair’s role will be interesting. I expect he will keep a low profile although I imagine he will pop up once or twice. He is very active on the international stage and events abroad may see him get coverage (and this may be the real reason the Tories do not want him having a high profile EU role). Whether he is seen as electoral poison I guess depends on your standpoint. Although I was opposed to the Iraq War, I found myself broadly a fan. The changes to this country made under his stewardship are very impressive.

I do recall the jibes about whether he would appear on election literature in 2005 (he appeared on mine), and there was an unspoken recognition (or belief anyway) that the real agenda was ‘vote Blair, get Brown’ – quite surprising given the acrimony that our leader currently gets in the press.

Generally former leaders play cameo roles in discussion programmes and results round-ups, and little more. They are perceived as impinging on the presence that the current leader enjoys. That Tony Blair was undefeated and carried the magical middle England en masse may mean that he still has influence there.

One final thought occurs: David Cameron is in thrall to TB’s image and models himself on him. The real thing reminding voters that “DC ain’t no TB” might carry some potency.