Yvonne Ridley: Blair is as welcome in politics as a bag of pork scratchings at a vegan convention

CommonSpace columnist Yvonne Ridley takes a walk down memory lane amid rumours that former prime minister Tony Blair may be on the verge of a political comeback

TWENTY years ago this week I was dancing in the streets to the strain of the New Labour anthem "Things Can Only Get Better" sung by the Irish band D:Ream.

I'd spent my entire journalistic career, bar three years, under a Tory government led by Margaret Thatcher and then had to endure the Conservative encore of nearly seven years under John Major, so maybe you can understand the euphoria I and millions of others experienced on Thursday evening, 1 May 1997 when it was obvious Labour had won.

Tony Blair walked in to Downing Street the next day heralding a new era. We were blinded by his dazzling promises, his charisma and the energy of New Labour but it's fair to say most sane people can now look back and see that, far from introducing sweeping new changes, it was a more subtle form of Thatcherism … Tory lite, if you will.

Scottish voters woke up to the Blair legacy long before the rest of the UK, hence the astonishing SNP landslide in the last General Election which produced 56 MPs.

Now he is hinting he's ready to make a comeback, which is about as welcome as a bag of pork scratchings at a vegan convention for most of us, although there are still a few shameless Blairite supporters out there who are "bored" by Iraq and the Chilcot report and have airbrushed from memory that New Labour was the architect behind the inhumane 'fitness-for-work' firm Atos and opened the floodgates for university tuition fees in England.

Scottish voters woke up to the Blair legacy long before the rest of the UK, hence the astonishing SNP landslide in the last General Election which produced 56 MPs, led by Angus Robertson at Westminster, and the only opposition worth talking about in the UK Parliament. When the London-based media sneers at you and the prime minister bristles at every Prime Minister's Questions, you know the SNP is doing a good job.

But let's get back to the issue of the Blair sequel. The fact he is emboldened enough to tout himself around the TV studios hinting at a comeback serves to highlight the weakness of the current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. I like Corbyn, he's a man of integrity, but he'd rather meet and greet the general voting public than deal with the real problem in Labour: the spectre of Blair.

If Corbyn is to be taken seriously as a leader who can get tough he needs now, more than ever, to silence Blair and the Blairites for good, regardless of timing and the General Election. 

The UK does not need a sequel to the Blair years, nor does it want to see his return in the British Parliament. What the general voting public would like is justice - justice for the Iraqi people, including the one million widows who now live in what has become a failed state as a result the Bush-Blair wars.

If Corbyn is to be taken seriously as a leader who can get tough he needs now, more than ever, to silence Blair and the Blairites for good, regardless of timing and the General Election. 

Once again I ask the simple question: Why is Tony Blair still in the Labour party? Within minutes of the Chilcot report being released he should have been suspended pending an investigation into bringing the party into disrepute after being exposed for misleading the country over the impending war on Iraq. There are some who are still determined to see him stand trial in The Hague.

Let's not forget that, under Blair, our civil liberties were trashed, surveillance increased and his 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act opened the establishment's powers to snoop on all of its citizens. Those who criticise Theresa May’s 'snooper’s charter' today can thank Blair for paving the way for even more restrictive legislation on our human rights, freedoms and liberties.

Instead of allowing Blair to taunt us all at the prospect of a comeback in a Labour safe seat - and he's rumoured to be looking at a few - Corbyn's Labour needs to nail down the coffin and put this ghost to rest once and for all. The branch office in Scotland has all but ceased trading and if Teflon Tony is allowed to stand in the next General Election it will signal the death knell of the party south of the border as well.

As Monday's anniversary arrived I was not dancing in the street (that is now being reserved for Scottish independence) or playing the tired old New Labour anthem to remind myself of a misspent youth. I was instead reflecting on probably some of the most barren years in Westminster politics and an era that is best forgotten.

I might just dig out my old vinyl I Don't Like Mondays - a hit for another Irish band, The Boomtown Rats, in 1979, the year Thatcher came to power. 

The song was in the charts for four weeks that year ... every cloud.

Picture courtesy of Andrew Newton

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