“Different Labour”, “Modern Labour” ,“Real Labour”- just some of the strap-lines being proffered for the post-Ed future. Labour’s greatest electoral pummelling since the eighties has understandably given the party cause to move on. But in the clamour of the new a voice from the past has produced one of the most compelling suggestions. Tony Blair’s piece in the Observer called for a “renewed” Labour; one that embraces aspirational messaging and cuts across the political spectrum. The argument comes straight from 1997. But stripped of the dated labels — “New Labour”, “Third Way”- Blair’s eloquent appeal to a centre ground state of mind is a radical and fresh proposition for a party that has lurched to the left.
Through the glut of the new old ideas still manage to disrupt. To break through the wall of noise they have to resonate with the cultural context. Miliband misread the public’s post-crash outcry against City spivs as a new form of popular leftism. Rather, it is the rejection of isms altogether that appeals to the British public of 2015.The post-ideological aspiration of New Labour works because it corresponds with the flat white generation: socially liberal, less attached to the welfare state and NHS than their elders.
The currency of the old stretches beyond politics. If Blair’s centrist tactics were designed to steal Tory votes his resurfacing last week fittingly coincided with McDonald’s revival of one of its long-forgotten characters the Hamburglar. What this rebooting demonstrates is even one of the world’s most established brands is not beyond rummaging through its old wardrobe for retro garb. In the evanescent moments that characterise our Now Economy having a history on which to draw is becoming a valuable point of differentiation for brands.
Our digitally orientated projections on the future are often disturbed by the survival of traditional forms. The resurgence of sales in hardback books at a moment of peak Kindle is one such example. Labour’s loss is another. The general election heralded new digital battlegrounds; yet those enmeshed in Labour’s Twitter silo woke up baffled on May 8th to discover that much of the UK did not agree with them. Instead it was old media that were gloating. In a context where much of the press were hostile to Red Ed and only 11.7% of dailies endorsed a Labour vote the old idea of winning over the media was not something that bothered a party bent on conquering social. The party’s embrace of new digital platforms and messaging that resonated with its grass roots was the flipside of its abandonment of mainstream appeal. Rocking the boat dispensed the bathwater but also knocked away the babies.