Election Day across the UK looms. The Labour Party are set to lose power. Hurrah.
But will they lose badly enough to be obliterated? Or somehow only enough to stay in business and start scheming anew after some ritual blood-letting?
Here’s my own New Labour Story.
I joined the FCO in 1979 as a naive and truculent leftist, fresh from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the USA. Trade Unions – good! Mrs Thatcher – horrible! How dare she and Raygun stand up so defiantly against the Soviet Union and all those of us who only wanted Peace?
Then I was sent to communist Yugoslavia, where it dawned on me that so many things I had thought and been told about Socialism were simply untrue, or (worse) calculated lies.
I came back to the UK in 1984 a fervent believer in the utility (and morality) of free markets and Western democracy. I played my part in helping the Thatcher government end apartheid in South Africa. Then she fell, but I was in London for the early Major years as Communism ended in the Soviet Union and across Europe.
Off to Moscow and then Bosnia. I missed the twilight lugubrious Major years and the huge acclaimed election victory of my old college chum Tony Blair.
A real sense of new energy was there, and the FCO raced to embrace it. Change! And Hope!
As a supporter of democracy, I saw no reason for concern. After all those long Conservative years it was time for a change. And Labour seemed to have the right ideas for keeping public finances in good order.
My own first significant encounter with New Labour came in 1997, when Robin Cook visited Sarajevo. He was impressive, if somewhat distant and cross. But also obsessed with the media – he rudely kept the Bosnian Foreign Minister waiting for the best part of an hour as he fiddled with a press statement.
I later heard from a colleague who had first hand from Robin Cook his corrosive, cynical philosophy: "If anything goes well in the FCO. I’ll take the credit as Foreign Secretary – if anything goes badly, the FCO takes the blame". This of course slaps the convention of Ministerial Responsibility in the face. Cook did not care.
In late 1997 PM Tony Blair visited Sarajevo. We (Embassy/FCO) had a huge row with No 10, as his Campbell team refused to let him meet any Bosnian politicians – only a photo-opportunity with the troops was needed for UK press purposes, thanks.
This absurd position was eventually overturned, but Blair paid only a fleeting visit to Sarajevo and bizarrely left Bosnia without saying a single word in public to Bosnia. An irresponsible and, again, downright rude way to behave, driven by his odious spin-doctors.
However, seeing advantage in being tough on the causes of international crime, Labour did do a good job in changing course and using British troops to start to arrest war crimes indictees. Not that they did all they could to get Karadzic to surrender?
Anyway, I was cooling off at Harvard when NATO bombed Kosovo, returning to London in mid-1999 with a big promotion, thanks to Robin Cook who had valued my directness. He played a significant personal role in the concerted international effort to support free elections in Serbia and Croatia, not least in holding the line against any EU concessions to Croatia’s ghastly President Tudjman. The fall of Milosevic and the work done by HMG to bring that about was Robin Cook’s finest foreign policy achievement. I ran that policy in London.
Yet by then the glamour of all that new Labour energy and sense of reform was wearing off. ‘Diversity’ had transformed itself from welcome creative fairness and flexibility into neurotic processes. Anti-bullying initiatives were swarming in the FCO, the one placid place in the world where anything like meaningful bullying was almost non-existent. Endless ‘change initiatives’ and political correctness were demoralising everyone.
And lawks, death by Targets:
Yet don’t I dimly recall that it was Ministers in this Government who made us draw up Strategic Priorities in the first place? Yes, it’s all coming back …
First we had seven.
Then we had eight.
Then we had nine.
Then, gloriously, we reached ten!
Now we are reduced to a measly four Key Policy Goals, albeit with free added Surge. All in some 260 weeks.
Pathetic replacement of substance by interminable process. Brought about all because Gordon was squabbling with Tony and Peter, wooing Clare and Robin and Jack. Babies.
As the years passed a new sense of incompetence and sheer sleaze emerged. The FCO had the extraordinary indignity of getting Margaret Beckett as Foreign Secretary.
In her previous Ministerial job she had visited Warsaw with her husband in tow as one of her generously publicly funded Advisers. He said nothing but fell asleep in meetings with Warsaw Ministers. Too ghastly for words.
Margaret Beckett was smart enough in an Old Labour way. But she knew nothing about diplomacy and international relations, so burbled away instead about Climate Change. The FCO atrophied.
Then as Ambassador I had to lead the UK position in Poland when Tony Blair made significant concessions on the UK Rebate in the 2005 EU Budget negotiations.
By then the splits and dysfunctionality at the heart of New Labour were merely embarrassing. No 10 officials dismissed Gordon Brown as Mrs Rochester, the mad woman shrieking in the distant attic.
As it happens, on that one Gordon Brown was right. The UK had a superlative position after the French and Dutch referenda blowouts on the EU’s Constitutional Treaty. We could have forced key reforms and really redefined the EU on our terms.
Tony Blair made the fatal strategic mistake of wanting to be loved, extending the hand of friendship to the French while they were flat on their backs like upside-down tortoises, gasping for air. And he got nothing in return.
No, not quite right. What he got was the Lisbon Treaty, which Blair/Brown bundled through Parliament in the face of explicit Labour election pledges that the British people would have a referendum. Maybe Blair thought that for this generosity he was a cert to be elected the first EU President under the Lisbon Treaty? Sucker.
So there it is. The election campaign splutters on. Tony briefly appears to tick the box of campaigning, but without trying. Gordon has shown what he really thinks about working people.
Peter is already scheming about how to get David elected as leader after Gordon crashes.
What truly appalling people they all are. It’s all about them, not about the country.
What’s worse? Labour politics of irresponsibility? Or Labour aesthetics of unrelenting vulgarity? Narcissism. In red polyester socks.
Labour once again have ruined public finances, causing damage which will echo down the generations. They have presided over sustained banal corruption among MPs. After stunning new public spending the UK’s underclass problem is worse now than it was in 1997, an appalling if scientifically important outcome. It’s official – state socialism is a Failure.
Our diplomatic network and underlying leadership have been badly damaged. Billions have been wasted on phoney international assistance, much of it channeled via the UN and EU and so lavished on European consultants.
Labour can’t even grasp one simple implication of Diversity (and simple good manners, which I believe are still taught at Eton if nowhere else): be polite to foreign leaders.
All in all, a remarkable, historic disappointment, in outcome and philosophy alike
Somehow the Conservatives have not quite managed to lay out a clear, honourable alternative. With a record like Labour’s no-one other than John Prescott’s elderly relatives should be voting Labour ever again.
Yet Labour lingers on, helped by the armies of loyal collectivist serfs they have created in the BBC and countless public sector appointments. They can not campaign on their record, so they spread dirty sneers and fears. Such is the debased public space they have left us that some of this works.
It is left to Labour diehards like Brian Barder to rummage around in the slimy debris looking for a few nuggets of idealism – and to scrape together reasons for voting against the dreaded ‘Cameron’:
… there are at least two other powerful reasons for dreading a Cameron government: first, the Tory commitment to repealing the Human Rights Act, one of the Labour government’s greatest and bravest achievements, and an indispensable bulwark for the private citizen’s rights against an over-mighty executive (and we can only guess at what the Tories would replace it with); and secondly, the certainty that William Hague, as a committed Europhobe, enjoying the feverish support of the even more Europhobic wing of the Conservative Party, will destroy what little influence we still have in the EU, having already thrown his party’s lot in with a raggle-taggle group of right-wing, sometimes antisemitic, homophobic, neo-fascist European fringe parties when Britain’s natural partners are the moderate, liberal, socially responsible parties of the European centre, including the governments of Germany and France.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz … [wakes] … has that sentence finished yet?
Huh? Where are the reasons for NOT voting Conservative? You’ve given us two reasons for voting for them!
The Human Rights Act can and should be replaced with something based less on European jurisprudence and more on common law principles. Good riddance.
And as for the EU, a government armed with a firm mandate against yet more ill-conceived ‘integration’ is just what we need as the whole EU project squeals at the seams.
* * * * *
At poignant moments like this we turn, inevitably, to Elvis:
The party’s over
Your time is up
You’ve had your last pointless teardrop
Washed down in that broken coffee cup
This magic moment concludes when that cigarette ends
Did you get what you wanted?
Well I suppose that depends…
The party’s over
Time we broke up
It always seemed like a bad dream
One where I finally woke up …