I was once in a rock band for whom stardom beckoned. We were 16 years old and practiced in the music room at school, playing ‘60s music. The lead singer, John O’Dea, was a mod whose hobby was to beat up punks and skinheads. He was quite embarrassing. The reason he had something to prove was that back in ‘80s, the mods had a reputation for being soft.
One day John wrote some lyrics to a song called “Bollocks to a Tramp”, and although we didn’t want to encourage him, the words were good so we added a guitar riff and it rocked.
Up the west end every Saturday,
The Mods, Punks and Skinheads all come out to play,
They really make me sick,
I could hit ‘em with a brick,
Say bollocks to a tramp,
Bollocks to a tramp,
Punks and Skins are tramps,
We got our first gig at a Mod alldayer at the Ilford Palais. The crowd went crazy with 2,000 mods cheering at every line, and we were invited everywhere. Unfortunately the band fell at the first hurdle when the bass player got jealous and wanted to take over the vocals, so arranged for O’Dea to be kicked out. At the next gig, we opened with the bass player singing Bollocks to a Tramp, and the audience sat all the way through, then clapped politely at the end of it. The magic was gone and the band soon split.
When Labour got rid of Tony Blair, I reflected on the sacking of John O’Dea. Even though I was politically closer to Gordon, I didn’t think it was a good idea to make the bass player into the Prime Minister when we had a star singer in Tony Blair.
Bill Clinton was another star. It’s questionable as to whether Obama would have won last year’s election without his help. Tony Blair could do the same thing for Ed Miliband, but Miliband wants to put space between Labour’s past and present.
Economic consensus has changed since the time of Clinton and Blair. We used to agree that aspiring to owning a house would lift people out of poverty. Even George W. Bush saw sub-prime mortgages as a way of ending poverty. The idea was that people instilled with aspiration lifted themselves up.
Today we’re all Keynesians, including the Tories. In the future, infrastructure projects will not be cut back because we’re in recession, they’ll be moved forward. My point is that Tony Blair is from a different political era. However, some political principles remain the same.
All of this talk of second bedrooms as a human right has damaged us. Deborah Mattinson recently said, “People have started to define Labour by the past rather than the present. It’s almost as if New Labour didn’t happen. So when we ask people in focus groups, ‘What is the Labour party policy on the economy?’ They go back to the old fashioned tax and spend. That’s where they see Labour now.”
This chimes with my experience. My mates from school grew up in council flats and are now owner-occupiers in the suburbs. They are mostly a bunch of taxi drivers although one is in business and another in the City. They lean towards Tory but are open to Labour. Speaking about Ed Miliband, they used to say they were “undecided”, but recently a contempt for Ed Miliband has emerged. Three times recently I’ve had people tell me, “He stabbed his brother in the back”.
Ed Miliband didn’t stab his brother in the back. It was an open contest. There is only one person in recent Labour history that you can use that term about. My school mates are looking at Ed Miliband and seeing Gordon Brown. They’re angry that Old Labour has come to dominate.
For all of Ed’s efforts to separate himself from the previous leaders of Labour, he has done the opposite and caused himself to be associated with Gordon. The problem is that the people who we need most of all right now, are the ones who voted for Blair.
Ed Miliband needs to stiffen every sinew in the race for 2015. He needs Tony Blair, not to take Labour back to a previous era, but close off a problem we have, a perception that we are no longer modern.
Obama described Clinton as “The honorary minister for explaining stuff”. Tony Blair should be our honorary minister for explaining stuff. Bring him back.