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Anterior Fears

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The late Philip Gould was a man of conviction, but he personified a fundamental political error: insisting on the fighting the last war during the next. The Labour Party would lose all its radicalism in the 1990s because influential people like Gould were still armed for battle with Arthur Scargill, the Militant Tendency and Michael Foot’s unsuitable overcoat. New Labour moved absurdly far to the right to show that they weren’t like that any more. Partly in consequence, we are picking ourselves up from the debris left by Peter Mandelson’s ‘filthy rich’.

Gould’s fear of the menacing past was personal: he argued fiercely against Ken Livingstone’s running as Labour’s candidate for mayor of London. ‘He still thinks I’m a Soviet agent,’ Livingstone told me in 2004. A generalised fear continues among Labour’s new outs. Miliband’s first mild gestures toward the interests of the not-rich were immediately met with the idiot term ‘Red Ed’. Old-fashioned Blairites still huddle in shivering immobilism.

It was always nonsense. Militant was long since routed, Scargill become chuntering history when the Labour Party under John Smith – thanks in part to his undoctored image, the ERM fiasco and the Tory split – had a rising lead in the polls. After Smith died, Gould, an honest man full of anterior fears, provided doctrine, statistics and respectability for hungry opportunists to do what came naturally.

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