“Right idea, badly executed” was the younger Tony Blair’s verdict on the Labour Party as he entered politics within the Nineteen Eighties, as he now recollects in Blair and Brown: The New Labour Revolution. It nonetheless sounds about proper. It’s been three many years for the reason that New Labour “project” received stepping into earnest, and 10 years since it misplaced its faltering grip on energy. It is barely simply rising from an period, maybe an aberrant one, during which everybody and every thing related to New Labour was denounced within the Corbynite socialist counter-revolution.
Now that revolutionary motion, too, is a part of historical past. Like a retrospective exhibition of work by an artist as soon as well-liked, then despised, and now ripe for rehabilitation, this excellently researched documentary collection comes at a pivotal second. As earlier than, Labour nonetheless can not appear to get the execution proper. Some are additionally doubting whether or not the get together actually does have the “right idea” after all.
For anybody born across the time of Labour’s 1997 victory below the management of Blair and Gordon Brown – a world during which John Major’s Conservatives had been so badly mashed that many assumed they’d be out of workplace for a era – to consider it now should appear fantastical. For these sufficiently old to have lived by it, and even joined the New Labour “revolution”, it nonetheless takes effort to recall a time when politics wasn’t suffering from get together infighting.
Back then, Britain’s political struggles occurred between the main architects of success. Yet this retrospective is so brilliantly constructed that it brings these long-lost realities vividly again to life. Did we actually suppose the Tories can be completed for many years, and that Britain was about to embark upon “the progressive century”? Yes, we did. How naive that appears now.
The programme-makers have been blessed with their interviewees, who don’t maintain again. They have all the backroom boys and ladies – the backing vocalists if you’ll – not least Peter Mandelson at his delicate greatest; however the stars are Blair and Brown: the Lennon and McCartney of British social democracy. The intercutting of well-chosen archive materials (credit score to Rebecca Hickie) reminds us about how a lot they’ve bodily modified – all washed-out hair and furrowed frown traces – but in addition how set their personalities had been, whilst fresh-faced MPs.
As a scholar politician, Brown was already exhibiting his now-famous facial tic (a momentary jaw-drop earlier than he begins belting out some argument). Blair, then as now, had the straightforward attraction and private lightness of contact. However, the place Blair’s knackered visage nonetheless lights up when he grins, Brown seems to be as if each muscle in his head is straining itself to raise his jowly options right into a simulacrum of a smile.
Of the 2, and opposite to stereotype, it is Blair who appears the extra open and trustworthy about success and failure. He agrees that he and Gordon had been “as close as two people in politics can be”. He is rightly beneficiant about how a lot he – tired of politics till nicely into his twenties – learnt from the precocious and intense Brown. Not least how to make an inspirational speech, but in addition about the truth that, to place it bluntly, Brown didn’t have the ruthlessness demanded by the duty at hand.
Blair did, and consequently proved himself to be the extra in a position and well-liked determine when the second got here to tackle that activity, after the loss of life of John Smith in 1994. Brown, then again, nonetheless appears to consider that he would have gained the Labour management, as he claims: “It could have been me.” He’s even chippy as he recollects the go to to President Clinton’s White House, considerably unnecessarily mentioning that he’d “met Bill Clinton before”. With Edward Heath and Theresa May, Brown was one of many strangest and paradoxically unsuitable personalities to make it into No 10. Even now, he simply can’t assist himself from proving it.
The subsequent few episodes will inform us a great deal extra concerning the inside story of New Labour’s glory years, and how it all went wrong. It can even, little question, supply classes to politicians of each persuasion on the worth you pay for hubris. “A new dawn, is it not?” Tony Blair requested on that May morning in 1997. Perhaps, however it was additionally a false one, and oh so way back.