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Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution – #2


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From The Times October 5,2021

What is it about New Labour and one-liners? We all remember Tony Blair saying this was “not a day for soundbites” while the ink was drying on the Good Friday Agreement, before talking about “the hand of history on our shoulder” in the next breath. Older, greyer, their memoirs gathering dust, they’re still at it, with Douglas Alexander chirpily telling this excellent new series that Blair and Gordon Brown were “literally the Lennon and McCartney of Labour politics”, Peter Mandelson opining that “Tony was much more new, Gordon was much more Labour”.

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A landslide victory puts the Labour party back into power after nearly two decades. Tony Blair, who had never previously held a cabinet position, is now prime minister. A steep and daunting learning curve lays ahead of him. As he grapples with the vast government machine, Gordon Brown hits the ground running. His first move as chancellor is to make the Bank of England independent – a seismic change that Brown announces in his first days in office. The message is clear: Gordon Brown is going to end years of Tory ‘boom and bust’ and transform Labour’s economic reputation.
By the autumn of 1997, Tony Blair has made significant inroads in Northern Ireland and is working towards an unprecedented peace agreement. He is in tune with the public’s outpouring of grief after the tragic death of Princess Diana. Just a few months into their first term, the prime minister and chancellor have introduced Britain to a new type of politics and are in the process of transforming the country.
But as their popularity ratings soar, cracks start to appear from within the New Labour operation. The teams at No 10 and No.11 – fiercely loyal to their respective leaders – begin to turn on each other. When Brown’s press secretary Charlie Whelan is blamed for leaking a story about Blair’s long-time ally Peter Mandelson, both Whelan and Mandelson are forced to resign. It is a major blow to the slick New Labour brand. Blair and Brown each lose a lieutenant, and political rivalries within the party start to turn personal. Press and public interest in the party’s relationship dynamic will haunt them for years to come.

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