All political parties struggle to reconcile their core convictions with their desire to win elections. But apparently there’s one party so pristinely principled that it despises its own electoral successes.
I refer, of course, to Britain’s Labour Party. In choosing as its new leader Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time fixture of the hard-left fringe, the party has emphatically repudiated the winning ways of “New Labour.”
Corbyn is a throwback to the doctrinaire socialism of the 1970s and 1980s, which became linked in the public mind to crippling strikes by imperious labor unions, economic stagnation, welfare dependence, reflexive anti-Americanism and enthusiasm for “revolutionary” forces around the world. An iconic image of the era: the actress and prominent “Trot” Vanessa Redgrave holding a Kalashnikov aloft while dancing with PLO gunmen.
The party’s thralldom to the “looney left” paved the way for Margaret Thatcher’s ascension and kept Labour out of power for 18 long years. Finally, in the early 90s, a band of young reformers led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown jettisoned the party’s tired collectivist dogma and launched a drive to modernize the party’s image and governing philosophy. Inspired by Bill Clinton’s success here, they borrowed heavily from his “New Democrat” playbook.
Blair led Labour to a smashing victory in 1997, and went on to win two more elections. He and Brown served as Prime Minister for 13 years — Labour’s longest run in government ever.
While popular with British voters, New Labour’s attempts to define a modern and pragmatic progressivism were anathema to the party’s left. They disdained Blair as a glib and soulless centrist willing to sell out Labour’s socialist ideals for a mess of electoral pottage. That disdain curdled into intense hatred when Blair later supported George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
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