We are now being told that if Labour is ever to be electable again it must return to New Labour. After all, Blair is hailed as the leader who won three general elections, a feat not achieved since the days of Harold Wilson.
What this overlooks however is that the New Labour strategy was deeply flawed because it depended upon taking Labour’s core vote for granted but still maintaining their support on the cynical basis that they had ‘nowhere else to go.’
This worked initially. Yet after the experience of a New Labour government, many of these voters were left disillusioned and simply stopped voting. The result was that New Labour haemorrhaged support. So three general election wins masked the fact that New Labour had lost 3 million votes by 2001, 4 million by 2005 and 5 million by 2010. It also had a profoundly detrimental impact on the party, as membership halved during the New Labour era.
In Scotland the effects proved even more disastrous than in England as a credible alternative emerged, simply by saying the things Labour used to say, resulting in the annihilation of the Blairite-led Scottish Labour Party.
So the trick cannot be repeated. New Labour is a busted flush and re-engaging with Labour’s traditional support is the party’s only hope. Miliband’s efforts were evidently insufficient in achieving this but in a number of respects were a step in the right direction. It will take a lot more than a change of leader and another five years to undo the damage done by New Labour. But if they seize the reins of power again, it would be ruinous. It must be resisted.