The British Labour Party has published a list of its top fifty achievements in office since Tony Blair lead “New Labour” to power all the way back in 1997, on a wave of enthusiastic public support. As is often the case with lists of this nature, what has been omitted from the list is arguably just as interesting as what has actually been listed. There is not a single reference to the “war on terror” or any related measures aimed at improving security for British citizens. There is not a single reference to the war on Iraq. There is not a single reference to the Blair Government’s involvement in the conflict in the Balkans during the late 1990’s. There is not a single reference to the party’s somewhat conflicted position on adopting the Euro. In total, this all seems to represent an implicit admission by the party that the Labour Party’s foreign policy actions over the last decade are not something which it is proud of.
What I would like to see from the Labour Party here in the UK is a refreshing outburst of honesty. Accompanying this inescapably jaundiced list of fifty greatest achievements over the last decade, why not issue a list of the party’s ten greatest failures over the last decade, and then issue a comprehensive policy platform to address each of these failures? The Howard Government did the best it could to hide its numerous policy failures over the years, and by the end had far too much pride (or perhaps, hubris) to highlight the things it had done wrong and the things it could have done better. Its favoured approach was to soldier on practically regardless of what ordinary people thought of its policies, admitting as little fault as possible, and persistently attacking the Opposition’s credibility. That approach worked a treat in 2004 when Mark Latham proved quite vulnerable to a sustained smear campaign centred on his experience and temperament, but Kevin Rudd proved a much more teflon-like Opposition leader throughout 2007 and the rest is now history.
The British Labour Government, with a new leader in Gordon Brown, has an excellent opportunity to make a clean break from the past, and set a dynamic new course for the future. This may well entail the public disownment of some of the less attractive political legacies of the Blair years, but unless a clean break with the past is made, it is all too easy to see a similar scenario enfolding at the next election in Britain as unfolded in Australia last year. There are lots of criticisms that one can make of Tory Leader David Cameron, but he is certainly an Opposition Leader of the teflon-coated variety. That means that Gordon Brown in his team need to start rolling out some big, positive policy ideas if they are to emerge triumphant from the next election.