GARY KENT wonders about a little discussed aspect of Blair’s international intentions.
We should know by now that Tony Blair often claims to be bold but is as sly as a fox. He has the habit of smuggling important policy shifts past unsuspecting Labour Party members. It’s not so much “say what you mean and mean what you say” as “what you don’t see is what you get”.
Many delegates and even shadow Ministers at the 1994 party conference were oblivious to Blair’s intention, cunningly concealed in his conference speech, to revise Clause 4, even while the press was being briefed that he would do precisely that.
So why has no one noticed this highly significant part of Blair’s speech at the last Labour Party conference: “We will present proposals to you for the renewal of our membership base, policy discussion and our links with other parties around the world.” (my emphasis). What could this mean?
Remember that the last Labour leadership broke new ground in inviting former US President Bill Clinton (Arkansas CLP) to address the last party conference.
It implicitly answered the criticism that Blair was President Bush’s poodle and pushed the diplomatic boat out. It contravened the traditional courtesies of international relations to have a senior Democrat formally address the conference, while the Prime Minister was engaged in delicate discussions with Dubya’s domestic opponent on war and peace.
Remember too the furore that resulted from John Major’s aides helping Clinton’s opponent in the 1992 US Presidential elections. Once elected, Clinton refused to talk to Major for some time since his aides had been busy digging dirt on the President’s days in Oxford.
But combined with Blair’s mysterious remarks, Clinton’s presence at the last party conference could come to have a much more profound significance.
Add to the mix, the fact that the web site of the influential Democratic Leadership Council gives pride of place to Peter Mandelson’s Policy Network and I think you can start to see the shape of things to come. New Democrats and new Labour appear to be fusing organisationally as well as intellectually.
Are Blair, Clinton and Mandelson engaged in an attempt to fashion a new international Third Way political organisation, which brings together the US Democrats and the British Labour Party?
Quite what this might mean for the Socialist International is less certain. Blair has never made any secret of his less than comradely embrace of this often moribund organisation. European socialist leaders still rankle at the patronising lecture he gave them on neo-liberal economics back in 1997 and there are clear philosophical differences between the French Socialists, for example, and new Labour.
As it happens, I for one would welcome greater links between the Labour Party and the American left. Not just the Democrats, who may be shifting to the left after their recent electoral set backs, but also with the small but feisty Democratic Socialists of America, who organise the annual Socialist Scholars’ Conference in New York.
Their debates on war and more would shame much of the Labour left in their searing honesty and relevance. The left in Britain could gain much from closer links with progressives on the other side of the Atlantic as well as in the rest of Europe, and more widely of course.
But if we are to go down this road, let us all do it with our eyes open. I am sure that party members won’t welcome waking up to a fait accompli.
This article was first published in Tribune.