Is Tony Blair the Ozymandias of the Labour Party?

Ozymandias

Does this picture remind you of Tony Blair?!

As I listened to Tony Blair talking with disdain about the Party that he once led a poem came into my mind:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

The first thing that occurred to me was the “sneer of cold command”. That was clearly what we could see on his face as spoke yesterday about Labour’s future. But to be fair to him it was the same sneer as he used for years when he was actually the Leader. Mr Blair really did not like his Party and although he controlled it for years and was, in many ways, their most successful leader many in the Party did not like him in return.
The second thing was the phrase, “boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away. In reality that is what will be left of the Labour Party not immediately after the election of a new Leader but certainly that is what the end result will be over the next two or three years. As my good friend Lord Roger Roberts said yesterday the need for the reduced number of Lib Dem Parliamentarians to challenge the Tories for this Parliament will be huge as Labour member will fight Labour member.
How can someone say that a Party which will have almost 600,000 people voting in its leadership election can die and struggle? Well it’s easy really because you will have two Parties.
Firstly, half of the 300,000 people who will vote are not Party members. This is a very strange position to be in. Affiliated ‘members’ and supporters will have half the votes whilst those full members will provide the other half. Even there you see a most peculiar position. One third of those people who are full members were not full members on May 7th. So only one third of the electorate will come from those who strained and struggled to try and get a Labour Government earlier this year.
Secondly you will clearly have the Parliamentary Labour Party against almost everyone else. Will Mr Corbyn be able to find:A credible shadow Chancellor to promote a corbynomics policy that doesn’t add up?

  • A credible shadow Foreign Secretary to promote the numerous lost causes but no commitment to Europe that Corbyn has espoused over the years?
    A credible shadow Business Secretary when Corbyn’s industrial aims as stated so far are to bring dinosaur industries and nationalise existing industries which would cost an absolute fortune?
    A shadow Defence Secretary when he will fight no overseas wars and scrap Trident. This latter being a policy which I hope the Lib Dems will adopt but which the Labour Parliamentary Party has resolutely failed to support

And so on and so forth!
So there is no doubt that civil war will break out in the Labour Party if Corbyn wins. There is also a good chance that it will if he loses so big will the Corbyn group appear to be. I see long hours of meetings in cold church halls with Constituency Labour Parties passing policy motions and holding their MPs to account. This will be so like the Militant period that I fully understand why Corbyn is getting little support in Liverpool their former stronghold.
In fact I was very much in agreement with Joe Anderson the Labour Mayor of Liverpool when he told the Liverpool Echo last month that if there were a none of the above column on the Labour Leader’s ballot paper he would put his cross against it. He has later modified his opinion and is supporting Burnham. My analysis is one firebrand (whose authenticity but not policies I admire) Copper and Burnham as the former aristocrats of the Party who seem to be shifting principles and polices as they tack to the head winds of Corbyn; and Liz Kendall who has some reasonable analysis of why Labour did so badly.
So will there be an SDP style walk out from the Labour Party as there was in the 80s? I have no idea but if there is it will not come quickly. Frankly I do not see how any supporter of Liz Kendall could stay in a Corbyn led Party which has committed itself to such extremist views. There is always the argument that you achieve more by staying in and fighting but they will be in such a small minority that their input will be meaningless. Liz Kendall might be able to work with flip-flop Burnham and patrician Cooper but Corbyn? That is a stretch of the imagination too far.
Personally I hope that there will not be a walk out and the emergence of a new Party which will then inevitably be linked to or competitive for the so called middle ground in politics. I lived through the SDP split and negotiated with them locally. Some of them like Shirley Williams nationally and Flo Clucas locally were people who had real integrity and created with us a new Party which was stronger than both the old Liberal Party and SDP. But many of the people who joined the SDP were transient blow-ins who either wanted to defend their position or saw a quick way to find one. They didn’t last long in the harsh world or third party politics!
So I want to see the Liberal Democrats getting on with doing what we are already doing. Rebuilding with new energy and determination and winning back confidence in the electors and by so doing wining back seats. We won another council seat in Wales last night which by my tally is 9 seats gained since the General Election with 2 losses. Our vote has been up well in almost every ward that we have fought. This tallies with our own door knocking in Church and Woolton Wards where there is a clear air of disquiet with Labour both locally and nationally at the 1,000+ doors we have knocked at in the last 6 weeks.
I am proud of the work being done by our new Leader, Tim Farron, in tackling some of the difficult issues in society. Two stick out to me. His visit to Calais and his determination that refuges should be treated as real people and not as pests to be swatted shows his and our liberal intentions to the full. His determination that mental illness will be at the forefront of our health service campaigning shows that we are prepared to deal with issues that the others find difficulty.
So as Lord Roger Roberts commented this week the work of our parliamentarians in the Commons and Lords, our MLAs and our councillors will be vital in this Parliament. Whilst the Labour Party fights itself we will fight for the people of Britain. While they promote the same medley of unworkable policies that helped produce the financial crisis we will promote credible policies that challenge the Tories.
The way ahead for the Liberal Democrats is not easy but at least for us it is clear!

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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