I wrote the following article for the Guardian, the morning after the General Election of 5 May 2005
May 7, 2005
SECTION: Guardian Leader Pages, Pg. 21
Comment & Letters: The problem for Gordon
BYLINE: Lynne Jones
This election has seen the loss of many Labour MPs of integrity. But as a result of our reduced majority, there will be much more opportunity for Labour backbenchers to exert influence over the government. Previously, many colleagues felt they owed their seats to Tony Blair. Now they may feel that they got elected in spite of him.
Iraq has come to symbolise the disaffection felt by a large section of our core vote, usually middle-class people with a social conscience. Because of Tony Blair's close identity with the decision to go to war, we will not be able to put this behind us without a change of leadership.
But people misjudge the situation if they think Iraq is the only issue that disappoints people. Measures introduced in the last parliament that erode our fundamental freedoms run counter to the libertarian instincts of democratic socialists. We need an effec tive, not a reactionary, response to deal with the threat from international terrorism.
What's more, in offering free long-term care, a decent basic state pension (with complicated means testing rolled back) and free higher education paid for by progressive taxation, the Lib Dems are tapping into core Labour values. Such values reject PFI schemes involving private companies making profits at taxpayers' expense on 30-year contracts. They also reject policies based on the view that competition is the best way to secure improvements in our schools and hospitals. People are intelligent enough to recognise that you can only have a choice of provider if there is surplus provision, which is wasteful when it comes to expensive public services.
Yet in many ways, Tony Blair's most likely successor is even more closely associated with PFI, means-testing and an opaque system of taxation. Gordon, as much as Tony, has a top-down approach to policy-making and, despite attempts to imply otherwise, was just as much a part of the New Labour project.
We now have a historic opportunity with the third term to learn from our mistakes. Tony Blair can find a way of stepping down with dignity, pointing to the record investment in public services of which we are all proud. If the new leader adopts a much more consensual approach, the third term will not be associated with the kind of internal conflict that so many people are predicting. Here's hoping.
Lynne Jones is Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak