Fandyism is more than luscious brown eyes – it’s about winning back forgotten voters

Olly Hudson  /  Leave a Comment

Fandyism. Half-baked epilogue to Milifandom or bright-eyed dash of northern soul? In any case, the answer to that question is now the stuff of counterfactuals, with JC having already politely declined his certain invitation to join the Privy Council on 12th September.

I suppose I should begin with a confession. I’m coming at this with the zeal of the convert. Having jumped on the Corbyn bandwagon before it was cool, in true hipster fashion I abandoned ship when it all became a bit mainstream. Bizarre as it now seems, old Jezza threw his hat into the ring at a time when Andy Burnham had just anointed himself leader of the ‘aspiration’ chorus, or, for the uninitiated, the idea that if only Labour might appeal to the Boden-clad yummy-mummies and faddy-daddies of the Home Counties then all would be well. Amnesia seems the order of the day for those who argue that had Ed Miliband talked about “economic credibility” just a bit more, the result might have been different. “Cast iron guarantees” and “fully costed plans” permeated Labour’s election message like lettering through a stick of rock.

Even the centrepiece of the campaign – the seven-way leaders debate - witnessed what wasn’t so much Cam’s valiant joust with Red Ed as a 3-on-1 happy slapping of Miliband von Hayek at the hands of Leanne Wood, Natalie Bennett and Nicola Sturgeon. Labour didn’t lose the election because people feared that Milibae might nationalise your local Tesco’s and maybe the cat for good measure (though as the Sunday Sport attests, it’s clear the Milibands aren’t to be trusted with all things feline). But here’s the plot twist. Nor was it because Labour’s failure to offer a more rigorous critique of third-way neoliberal capitalism had become the staple of dinnertime conversation from Cardiff North to Nuneaton. Whisper it gently, but a fair few of us likely do have something to lose other than our chains.

There’s many a worthwhile critique to be levelled at Blairism and just so we’re clear, I’m all for a sanctimonious sneer at New Labour over a lukewarm flat white, Grauniad in-hand. But one often ignored fact is simply that 13 seasons in the sun, worshiping at the altar of pragmatism, left the party hollowed out. Now, the Blairites among you probably just choked on your Cornflakes. “Of course New Labour was all about electioneering – it was actually rather good at it!” goes the charge. Quite. The problem was that the strategy worked rather too well. Tony Blair’s three victories gave 13 years of a Labour government that otherwise would not have been, but for evidence of its signal failure to lay down a legacy that would stand the test of time, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you exhibit A: the current shower of a leadership contest.

(Though if it were all about those eyes, that'd be okay too)

(Though if it were all about those eyes, that’d be okay too)

For all its triumphs and notable tragedies, the Blair government was less socialism’s second wind, more a last hoorah in the sorry saga that is the strange death of liberal England. Make no mistake, the metropolitan liberal elite is alive and kicking and if you’re minded to think otherwise it’s probably you. And who could forget those dastardly neo-liberals, who as any self-respecting lefty will attest in a heartbeat, are very much still a thing. But riddle me this: why should it be that the fortunes of New Labour and the Liberal Democrats seem so bound in the same death spiral? The answer: New Labour signalled the curtain call for left liberalism as a worthwhile political venture.

The trouble was, New Labour had all the bite but very little in the way of bark. When the current coterie of identikit front benchers hail the legacy of the last Labour government, count how many times you hear the minimum wage, tax credits, the repeal of section 28 or sure-start centres reeled off in a now compulsive litany. Contrast this with the Tories when it comes to Thatcher and you might be hard pressed to get them to even mention a single policy, quite simply because there’s no need. It was Thatcherism. You just know. It’s the reason historians may be disinclined to add Blair to the list of ‘great’ PMs, and the reason Mrs Thatcher’s poll-tax will never be Mr Blair’s Iraq. True to the woolly liberal playbook, New Labour’s policy achievements were lauded only for their utility. To suggest that work itself, or the existence of a strong, moral state could hold any intrinsic worth was unsanctioned thinking.

Andy Burnham gets stick for his stated aim of rediscovering “the heart of Labour”, but he’s bang on the money. With the Corbynistas and Kendallites squaring off in their corners and the Cooper campaign missing in action, Andy alone seems to get that Labour’s crisis is cultural. Work as it did in 1997, the New Labour gamble, that the party could play away from home, flirting with middle England while it’s core vote would always come home at the end of the day, can no longer hold. Up and down the country, Labour’s task is to rekindle relationships with millions of voters who may just have a sense, and nothing more, that Labour just doesn’t speak “for people like me”.

The ‘five million lost votes’ meme is one that tends to irk Blairites, but it’s an inconvenient truth if ever there was one. From the forgotten towns of the East coast to industrial heartlands left behind by globalisation, it’s the England that liberalism forgot that Labour must speak to once again. If Corbyn wants to destroy New Labour’s legacy while Kendall and Cooper are condemned to relive it, only Andy Burnham seems capable of just moving on. And if that weren’t enough to convince you, how could you say no to those eyes?