Apparently it’s all my fault…


Apparently it’s all my fault…

DAVE NELLIST, leader of the Socialist Group of councillors on Coventry City Council and former Labour MP for Coventry South East from 1983 to 1992 comments on this year’s Labour Party conference and the Channel 4 programme The Deal about the relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

IN HIS conference speech Tony Blair spoke about his inspirational moment, in 1985, when Neil Kinnock attacked Militant (the Socialist Party’s forerunner). I was then a Labour MP, who for three weeks shared a small office with Tony Blair, and sort of featured in both.

Apparently, according to The Deal it’s all my fault. The TV programme showed John Smith (Labour’s leader between Kinnock and Blair) taking the young ‘leader-to-be’ into Gordon Brown’s office.

“Can he share with you? He can’t get on with Dave Nellist.” Blair continues, “It’s because of dinosaurs like him that we lost the election”. Then a reference to me wearing ‘a crimplene suit’ – at that point I knew the opening credit ‘Some of what follows is true’, was not!!

And so, says the film, began Blair and Brown’s joint journey to power. The film itself shows the relationship between the two – but seen (as Paula Mitchell explained in her review in the socialist 317) in a bubble, without the real interplay of political forces taking place elsewhere, even within the party.

Then, a couple of days later, the speech – and the shorthand description of Blair’s defining moment:

“I remember when our journey to government began. Here in this hall in 1985, with Neil Kinnock. And, of course today it seems absurd, doesn’t it? Militant, Arthur, all that nonsense. But I tell you. At the time, I remember up there, where the MPs used to be penned in, getting to my feet in the middle of his speech, the hall split asunder, my heart pounding, wondering if this was the beginning or the end.”

In other words, the first task in changing Labour was to expel the socialist left – especially Militant.

This speech was part of the process of Labour’s transformation from a party based on the working class, in which socialist-ideas were legitimate, debateable, and discussable.

Blair’s agenda

LABOUR NEVER transformed society, but at least it was a vehicle for those who did want to transform society in a socialist direction. It was changed to a party today that receives three times as much money from millionaires as the Tories do!

Labour is now a party where the essential agenda is about defending big business interests – yes, perhaps tinkering with some of the worst aspects of capitalism (no more than the Tory ‘wets’ or the Liberal Democrats would do) but in order that capitalism’s essence is preserved for those big-business paymasters.

It’s no longer a vehicle for socialists to seriously work in, in fact it’s .now a prison for those few members still believing in socialist principles.

Could the mid-1980s have been different? Yes – if the miners in 1984 hadn’t been betrayed by a TUC unwilling to use all the huge sympathy for their battle and the willingness to support that fight and to harness it into coordinated, national action.

Yes – if Liverpool hadn’t been betrayed by other local authority leaders who talked of a fight with Thatcher against public service cuts, but then left that city to fight alone.

That’s to say nothing of the international changes, particularly the fall of the Berlin Wall. But if the miners and Liverpool hadn’t been defeated, then perhaps Neil Kinnock wouldn’t have been in the ascendant and the ground wouldn’t have been partly laid for radical right-wing realignment. Blair might not men have come to lead the Labour Party.

Events – and the actions of those who let me miners and Liverpool be defeated – were the untold story of The Deal. These were the real progenitors of Blair’s transformation of Labour into a reliable big business party.

But to those who see history in simpler terms, and mink it could be different if only I’d been ‘nicer’ to Tony Blair in 1983, so that he never left our office in the Commons to share with Gordon Brown -well, I still don’t believe it was really my fault!