Friday will be the last day for the Guardian’s innovative local project in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds. For Guardian Media Group, the experiment has come to an end. There has been no shortage of bloggers, journalists and individuals paying tribute to the fantastic work done as a result of the three sites, some of whom are mentioned at the bottom of this post.
Many have offered thoughts on what the future for communities in Edinburgh will be online when the project ends. For what they are worth, I wanted to offer a few personal reflections on my brief time working for the project.
Firstly, tribute must be paid to Tom Allan and Mike MacLeod. Both are lovely guys who care a lot about Edinburgh and the various communities in the city. Sarah Hartley gave me my first break in journalism and I am grateful for her advice and guidance.
When the project first started, Tom covered Edinburgh in a way the capital hadn’t seen before. Multimedia, hyper-local news on a daily basis was a breath of fresh air. As a student journo, it was fascinating to see it evolve.
The project was a welcome addition to the city’s news sphere. It has not sought to replicate the work done by newspapers like the Evening News, which continues to provide important coverage of issues in the city, by trying to cover all the city’s issues.
Instead, it has provided coverage based more on issues, working with often small community groups. Given the resources available, not all the problems, challenges and issues in the city could be covered. But for those that were given attention, both Mike and Tom showed passion and resiliance making sure they were covered properly.
I was particularly impressed by Mike’s coverage of the aftermath of the climate camp after it ended.
My personal highlight was working with residents at the Flower Colonies in Slateford. After following their fight against a new development , I got the chance to spend an afternoon with them and find out how it had brought their community closer together. I also enjoyed looking at the impact of chuggers in the city centre (even if one commenter didn’t).
Another innovation, which I think has helped bring decision makers to more people in the city, is live-blogging of council meetings. Often, there were issues discussed and decisions made that would not make it into print media because of space. But these were important to certain groups and the blog was an opportunity for them to find out more about the process. Others have started doing this and I hope it continues.
Thirdly, the digital community in Edinburgh has grown over the past two years and will no doubt continue to do so. The local project has helped, giving coverage to events and encouraging its readers to get involved. I hope we find another forum through which to keep this going, such as through the social media surgeries and hacks/hackers. Perhaps it would be a good idea to organise a leaving do for Mike to celebrate the work of Guardian local and discuss what happens next?
Fourthly it has given more prominence to other hyper-local sites. I had never heard of the likes of Greener Leith or the Broughton Spurtle before Tom started to provide links to their posts. Through the Guardian local project, a number of people came to realise just how wide and rich Edinburgh’s online community is.
When Mike took over the blog, we had a discussion about the future of Guardian Edinburgh. He said he wanted to give as many people in Edinburgh as possible the chance to share their stories and views on the city. I think he has gone a long way to doing that and it’s a shame it has to end in this form.
There will be other channels through which these issues continue to be covered , such as the Evening News and STV local. But I am sure many people will miss the Guardian blog and the people who contributed to it.
The experiment may be over for site, but I think it will leave a lasting impression on Edinburgh’s digital community.
And in true Guardian local style, do comment below if you think any of these views are right or wrong
Tinchy Stryder makes no secret of the fact he is one of the smallest people in the music business. The pseudonym, he says, comes from a nickname afforded due to the fact that he is a tiny 5’1”. But that’s not to say the ego that comes with being a fairly regular mainstay of British rap and his own clothing brand indicate this is something he feels uncomfortable about. As one of the first to make his name from the crowd that has now spawned Professor Green, Tinie Tempah and Example, Tinchy is far from stunted as far as musical accomplishments go.
Tonight however, size, or lack of it, is not on his side. Despite the name recognition Stryder has and the relative shelf life that his previous hits (Number 1, You’re Not Alone, Take Me Back et al.) have given him, the Picture House is embarrassingly empty. The venue has given Edinburgh the much-needed capacity to host more established artists in the capital, but at around a third full for a self-proclaimed ‘Star in the Hood’, its hard not to question why Stryder didn’t opt for a venue that is a bit, well, smaller.
Not that our host for the evening seems to take much notice. Swaggering onto the stage clad in sunglasses and flanked by his usual troupe, many of whom are sporting products from the main attraction’s clothing range, the venue might as well be full for the energy Tinchy puts into his show.
The crowd, in part, reciprocate this enthusiasm. The 200 or so Tinchy diehards at the front are unfazed by their diminutive number and are evidently enamoured by Stryder’s performance. The rest of us perk up a bit when the hits are rolled out, though there is a feeling that a striking lack of atmosphere combines with a minimal knowledge of Tinchy’s music beyond his better publicised singles, to make for an uncomfortable time for some.
There seems little worth in discussing the merits of Tinchy’s artistic talents- if you don’t like British rappers who take themselves seriously, it’s unlikely one of them doing just that will change your mind. Tinchy shows tonight that he can rap and that he is an engaging live performer for the most part.
But the cringe effect of him standing in front of a minimal crowd asking “You louder than London?” makes it hard not to think that Tinchy might be a bit big for his boots tonight. Maybe this just isn’t his scene?
As they bring their acoustic sessions to Britain, the LA band discuss laying themselves on the line, their new DVD and maturing for their second album.
The Airborne Toxic Event don’t do aloof. The ballads that dominated their self-titled debut album – charting frontman Mikel Jollett’s breakup with his former girlfriend – are honest and forthright. Why would the band be any different?
Returning to the UK to celebrate the release of their first DVD- All I Ever Wanted- the Californian quintet could be forgiven for feeling a bit more like rock stars. They’ve built up a strong following of committed fans both sides of the Atlantic and have just played one of America’s finest music venues.
But, after two years of relentless touring as their self titled debut album went viral, they are used to talking about the trials and tribulations of their progression from touring in a transit van to hosting the British premiere of their first documentary at one of the country’s top independent film festivals.
The Pleasance is the perfect setting for first night of their maiden acoustic tour in Britain. In August, it is the hub of the world’s biggest arts festival, hosting some of the biggest names on the comedy circuit on an hourly basis. For the rest of the year, it is a students’ union, hosting sports science students nursing a cheap pint after a days work. It’s not especially glamorous, but it’s both intimate and welcoming.
This brief visit is about going back to basics, offering something different that reflects the setting. The band’s followers will be well accustomed to the high-octane intensity that has come to personify their shows. But more versed fans will also know about their youtube acoustic sessions- one take, one frame, unplugged versions of the tracks on their album. This foray is about bringing stripped down musical talent to the fore.
“It’s different,” says Mikel. “You can say things with a whisper or a shout. It’s easy to slam on a distortion pedal and just scream, but not so much to have a song that doesn’t require tones of production.
Among their five members are Anna Bulbrook and Noah Harmon- both classically trained musicians – Anna normally found playing violin or viola at the band’s shows, whilst Noah switches between bass guitar and acoustic double bass.
“I’m really fond of being able to have these quiet moments where Anna will play some beautiful lines on viola and we get some upright bass going- I really missed those moments on two years of crazy loud Airborne touring.”
Crazy and loud may be the thing they are best associated with (if you’ve been to an Airborne Toxic gig where one of the band didn’t jump off an amp, you’re in the minority). But this tour and the show that is the focus of their new DVD are quite different.
It was two years of touring on the back of their first album that persuaded the band to delve deeper into their bag of tricks. On returning to Los Angeles in December last year, their homecoming show had to be a bit different.
They got to work on preparing a show that would bring what Mikel calls “something special” to the newly refurbished Walt Disney Music Hall- east LA’s grandest music venue, which recently underwent a multi-million dollar refurbishment. Used to hosting the LA philharmonic, it is considered to have among the best acoustics in the world. That one concert, drummer Daren Taylor says, “took more work than any other show.”
Mikel continues: “The fact that our stupid little rock band was asked to play it was a huge honour. We really wanted to live up to it- we had one fucking record, how were we gonna play a gig of this magnitude?
“We decided to involve as much of he local community as possible- we had a children’s choir from East LA, we got dancers from LA, and we got a marching band from a high school down the street.
“We tried to turn it into something that wasn’t really about us, but just kind of about our ability to create an event for the people that were there. It wasn’t so much a question of ‘come look at us’, but ‘here’s what we can all create if we work at it.”
The Calder string Quartet playing the intro to ‘Wishing Well’ and the two-minute brass band build-up to ‘Does This Mean You’re Moving On’ show how well the band’s tracks work with wider musical accompaniment.
Combined with the striking reality of ‘Sometime Around Midnight’ and ‘This Losing’ (I admit to them that I feel like we’ve all been through the same break-up), the DVD is a showcase of the Airborne Toxic’s diverse talent and their ability to sing about young relationships as well as anybody else.
But there’s also that something new that they need to do for themselves. In contrast to the appealing reality of the first album, the past two years have been spent together on a bus. How will they keep that emotion, so characterizing of band, alive for their second album?
“I felt very conscious that this wasn’t going to be some stale second record that isn’t moving,” says Mikel.
“The title track is about dying and losing family members. We have two songs about being on tour; the sense of displacement and how you really long for things you never thought you would.
“There are some very strong ideas and passions to be found in these things as much as there is in a really though break-up with a girl. I agree with you- people like the Airborne because of that sense of connection and hard times, being honest with yourself about how difficult things were is really refreshing. The new record does that in spades.”
Darren chips in: “The new album is sort of a step in the way of maturity I guess. It’s a step away from what we did on the first album, but still related.”
And it will be accompanied by another acoustic series- the band are already planning how to keep the raw edge with their new material.
“We’re going to do a project called the bombastic which is going to be a series of web videos- one frame, one shot. There’s something honest about it. The hard thing is to just stand there and play your song.
“Everybody fakes it and you live in a world where everyone is faking it really well. So we’re like, let’s do something you can’t fake and one bombastic we’re going to do the same thing as the acoustic series, but larger productions.”
The band’s name is taken from the second part of Don DeLilo’s ‘White Noise’, a novel where there is so much information in society, it’s not clear what is real. For Mikel, their routes won’t be forgotten.
“The reason we called ourselves this is because of the cloud in the novel that comes in and is a metaphor for the oversaturation of information and simplification. In the face of that, we’re just trying to sing some honest songs.
“We’re not about posturing but much more just serving music and sharing a moment. That’s always been the idea.”
Broken Records return to the live circuit in their homeland was as much a farewell as it was a triumphant homecoming. This was the first time in a year that they had played the city which had been there home during their rise to become one of the most exciting new bands in Britain 18 months ago, but it was also to be the last time that their original line-up would grace the stage as one.
Two of the bands members, Gill and Arne, are moving on to new things- the former “full time employment” and the latter Germany. Both were integral parts of debut album Until the Earth Beings to Part, which earned the Edinburgh seven-piece plaudits and comparisons to Arcade Fire. This air of nostalgia was clear in this set- the largely local crowd wanted to here the hits that put the band on the map in the first place.
For a large part, they got what they wanted; lead singer Jamie Sutherland’s haunting and potent voice interweaved with a plethora of musical accompaniment- drums, bass, keyboard, electric cello, trumpet and three guitars featuring at various stages- that give this band a powerful presencethat makes it hard not to pay attention.
But Broken Records’ new material is equally commanding. There is an increasingly lively sense to the tracks that will dominate Let Me Come Home, their follow-up due for release in October (you can read my interview with Sutherland about the album here.) Again, the ranging instrumental mix matches Sutherland’s lyrics beautifully- despite the stage looking a bit cramped, there is no sense that there is too much going on musically.
Not that the new album, based on their Edge festival performance, leaves behind their trademark sound. A duet with Jill O’Sullivan from support act Sparrow and the Workshop exhibits authoritative vocal prowess and would have been well placed in the band’s debut. Whatever alternative direction the band’s direction takes in the coming months, with a full UK tour planned, there is no sign that they will abandon the formula that got them noticed in the first place.
Whilst Broken records have not quite reached the levels of academies that would perhaps suit their plethoric sound, Modest Mouse have. Playing the Picture House the follow night- a comparatively intimate venue for a band used to gracing stages at musical festivals around Europe and North America- there was again the instrumental mix that defined this weekend.
Whilst it may have been 2007 when Modest Mouse really hit the ground running in terms of success, they have developed a committed following over the past two decades, and this gig was about exhibiting their extensive back catalogue. There is a sense that the formula here has been strictly followed- a large part of what Modest Mouse do sounds similar, with little room for any radical divergence. Not that this is a bad thing- there is a reason that they have had a following over such a long period of time, and a reason that so many of those enthralled by We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank continue to delve into their older material. Those fans that only swing into action for hits like ‘Float On’ stand in happy appreciation of the band’s pre-2007 material.
Modest Mouse have also seen comparisons to the Canadian outfit Broken Records were constantly likened to in their early days, but that seems to be little more than a reference to their large, stadium-esque presence. They have their own recognisable style, though the fact that much of this set can be related to their biggest hit- ‘Float on’- may be an indication that they have not made the stylistic jump that Broken Records are currently in the midst off.
Political relationships are never far from the top of the agenda at the Book Festival. Whilst some bloggers may be quietly pondering the death of political memoirs, they were top of the minds of those politicians, journalists and other interested parties gracing Charlotte Square for the final weekend. By the looks of today’s papers, it was the spark that lit the fuse for the final few days of campaigning in the Labour leadership election.
I recently interview Alistair Darling and Polly Toynbee about their views on the 13 years of New Labour in office that came to end just three months ago. My colleague Neil Pooran blogged on Polly Toynbee and David Walker’s event on Saturday. But another two political heavyweights were vying for pole position in the battle to define the Brown-Blair years this weekend.
On Saturday, it was the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley, described by chair Iain Macwhirter as a man who knew Tony Blair “better than he did himself.” Rawnsley is a man of tremendous political pedigree, and his recent The End of the Party is seen as a key contribution to the memory of New Labour, not least because it was published in the midst of the election campaign.
Rawnsley, as the paper’s Chief Political Commentator, offers a fantastic insight into the relationships behind closed doors in Downing Street. He has often been seen as a staunch support of Tony Blair and an ardent critic of his successor- at one point Macwhirther offers the a description of his colleague as “Tony Blair’s bitch.” Yet he was content to go into detail of Brown’s achievements. Had a snap election been called in 2007, Brown likely have won after his reaction to floods which devastated the country. The banks, he said, would have collapsed had Brown and Darling not “saved us” by winning over international leaders- not least Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy- to their interventionist plan. This, he believes, was Brown’s best moment and impressed a number of top civil servants even if it was questioned by the electorate.
But he also described the “two sides” of Brown- a man with intense moral conviction but often treating his colleagues “atrociously.” As prime minister, Rawnsley said, he did not have the presentation or interpersonal skills that helped Blair succeed. Waiting for the top job entrenched Brown’s character flaws and made him increasingly anti-Blair, to a point where this was what defined him rather than any ideas for positive change. By the time Brown did get the top job, he “didn’t really know what to do.”
Arguing that it is impossible to fully understand the workings of government without appreciating the relationships of those within it, Rawnsley said the complimentary talents of Brown and Blair that had served the party well in its first term had became a problem from then on. However damaging the timing of the book’s release may have been for Labour, he maintains that he had the support of a number of cabinet ministers, many of whom helped him with their accounts of the tumultuous relationships in Labour’s old guard.
Little mention, however, of the so called third man, bar one reference to his book as a slippery account of “the truth.” His opportunity would come the following day.
Peter Mandelson’s eagerly anticipated session was intensely personal, with the former Business secretary admitting to being bruised and broken before his 2008 return to the cabinet. “Needing to be wanted”, he said, led to his reconciliation with Brown when he returned from political exile to eventually become the most influential member of his inner-circle.
The two had been separated by the diving lines of the Blair-Brown rows, the former being a staunch ally of the prime minister. Mandelson, in typically personal fashion, claimed that he had tried to nurse Brown through the pain of not being the party’s leader. It was, he said, “personal and brutal on his [Brown’s] part.”
Like Rawnsley, he was happy to talk about the intensely bitter relationship between the prime minister and chancellor after 1997. Brown had a physical need to row with his boss according to Mandelson, thinking that he would be better at the job, Mandelson said. He was egged one by supporters, notably Ed Milliband who Mandelson allegedly sees as a potentially disastrous leader, which made the situation worse. This was not a sole characteristic of the labour government- it had plagued Thatcher towards the end of her reign as prime minister, he said.
And again similarly to Rawnsley, he said that the two had complimentary talents. Blair was the great communicator who was intuitive and knew how to deal with the public, Brown was the ideas man who “got all the policies right.”
As is described in his book, The Third Man, Blair considered moving Brown to the Foreign Office as a result of this relationship breakdown, but feared doing so would cause a Brown led backbench revolt. Mandelson, however, says it would have been a “risk worth taking”- Brown would not have wanted to bring the government down and thus risk his chance of eventually becoming PM. With Brown remaining chancellor, Mandelson said, the country would ultimately have been better had he taken the reigns of power earlier, as was agreed with Blair.
However insightful Mandelson’s accounts of government are it is hard to escape his personal tales, littered with his own sensitivities. He discussed his relationship with the Milliband’s (at one point quirking that Ed should have called his son Peter as a testimony to their closeness) and his regrets at not having more time to develop his policies at the department for trade and industry. He was hurt that his chances of becoming foreign secretary were effectively ended after he resigned from the cabinet in 2001 (despite rumours to the contrary in 2009) and admitted to being “ultimately unfulfilled” by his time in government. In an apt ending, in response to an audience question, he described the term Mandelsonian (does it exist?) as “subtle, strategic, hard-working and ultimately very loyal.”
However important these accounts of the past decade are, the contributions at the book festival seem to agree that the New Labour mentality is the only way for the party to succeed. These may be discussions of past issues, but they are likely to play a central role in the future politics of Britain.
Who ever thought of Arcade Fire’s hit album as destined for a theatrical movement piece? Some school students in Canada did, and got the band’s approval.
Bounding onto the stage at T in the Park last month, Arcade Fire might not have looked the part, resembling as they do a dysfunctional family that wouldn’t look out of place in Little House of the Prairie. But they certainly played it. Cultivating a near-religious following, the Quebec-based seven-piece have risen to become international superstars and one of the most tantalising live acts of the 21st century.
So perhaps it’s inevitable then that some fans would take a fascination with their multi-instrumental, rock-indie-pop-alternative-baroque style more seriously than others.
Students at Canterbury High School in Ontario have interpreted the band’s second album, Neon Bible, very earnestly indeed. Their one-hour production—The Neon Bible Project—is centred on their dark interpretation of the band’s 2007 offering, acted out on stage by a group of 16-to-18 year old students.
“Arcade Fire’s music is so theatrical,” explains the show’s director, Paul Griffin, who teaches at the school. “Unlike a lot of groups today, they tend to make music that when you listen to an entire album you think ‘wow, there’s a story here’.”
Their version of the story is presented through a medium ambiguously described as a musical. The group have rearranged tracks from the album and added a few from their debut, Funeral. But rather than performing the tracks themselves, the original recordings bellow through speakers whilst the troupe acts them out on stage.
“We think of it more as a movement piece. We play the music and act out what are like dance pieces but aren’t really dance pieces. People who came to see it [when it played in Canada] described it as like watching modern art.”
A bit more probing reveals an intense plot, one that might not automatically spring to mind. The first act focuses on a crumbling society, managed by an organisation which has near-total control over the populace. However, its figurehead rebels after coming to understand the corrupt nature of the organisation’s work, and decides to lead a group in search of a better society.
The second section sees the same figurehead in a post-apocalyptic world, leading a small band of followers in search of safety. We aren’t told exactly what has happened, but we know that it’s not good. “In the end it all comes to nought and ends very darkly, though there is a hope at the same time” says Griffin.
It’s nine in the morning where they are and two in the afternoon in Fest’s office, yet I am the one guilty of being foggy, unsure of what I’ve got myself into. Could this be further away from 60,000 people in a field singing along to Canada’s biggest musical export of the last few years? I ask how the group came up with such a gloomy focal point?
“We would basically listen to a song, try exploring it in groups physically, then we would bring it together, discuss it and try to shape whatever we had come up with to fit the whole thing and see how these ideas connected in a story,” says Griffin. “There’s a simplicity to the songs that made it all connect.”
But for me, it still doesn’t come together. Fiona Sauder, an 18-year-old student at the school, elaborates.
“When we first heard the album and sat down to listen to it together, we thought; how does this come together as a theatre piece? The thrill of just making a collective piece where we didn’t know the end product and what that would look like outweighed the fear that we had at the start. It was just really the excitement of knowing that we could do absolutely anything with it.”
This freedom was mostly down to the fact that band member Richard Reed Perry, who can normally be found plucking a double bass on stage around the world, is an alumnus of the Ontario school. He gave permission for the album to be used in its entirety, no strings attached.
“They haven’t actually seen it yet – we are sending them a copy of the show to see what they think,” ponders Matt Rodgers, another cast member.
“It’s really exciting because they obviously made the album with something in mind and they are telling stories within their music. But we have our own interpretation in the play so it will be interesting to see what they think about it.
“Within the music there are a lot of themes of paranoia, fear and being closed in. We tried to interpret these emotions in the music into the different pieces within the show.”
But despite its apparent abstraction, there’s something attractive, even endearing about this project. The cast are excited about bringing the show to the Fringe (“the music is hugely popular in the UK so hopefully that will bring in some crowds” says Sauder) and they are intent that this is a legitimate way of portraying one of the most important albums of the last decade.
And it has been praised. Recent dress rehearsals at home in advance of their Scottish foray saw crowds exceeding two hundred, two months after receiving national press over the project. Whether it’s just because of the quirky theme or a genuine interest in how the production works, the idea of twenty teens performing their interpretation of Neon Bible has a certain strange attraction—something outside the mainstream that mirrors that band itself. As Griffin concludes, it’s the dark side of their music that deserves to be presented.
“There is a real sense of weight to everything, a kind of claustrophobia that is certain part of the music, and we feel that it’s part of the show.”
The Labour Party’s longest period in power is over. But was New Labour a success? And what will its legacy be? Nick Eardley speaks to Alistair Darling and Polly Toynbee, two people intimately connected to the party.
11 May was the end of an age for New Labour. As Gordon Brown turned away from his lectern on Downing Street, bidding farewell to the country, the weight of the world seemingly lifted from his shoulders, he knew that the next day would be the first for thirteen years that the party he had been at the fore of for almost two decades would awake in opposition.
The Blair-Brown years had been the most rewarding for the party in its history: three successive general election victories, 13 years of uninterrupted government. Britain has changed almost beyond recognition since Blair’s heroic arrival in Downing Street in 1997 and the days of “Cool Britannia” – an extended NHS, devolution, peace in Northern Ireland, the Human Rights Act. But it has also seen some of its greatest challenges, arguably areas where the most significant failures of New Labour are evident: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a failure to regulate the banking system so costly it led almost to the collapse of the financial system, the worsening of income inequality. How will the party’s dominance of Westminster politics be remembered?
Sitting in his Edinburgh constituency office, a two-minute walk from Charlotte Square where he will give this year’s Donald Dewar memorial lecture, Alistair Darling explains how the recession was not the government’s fault, and tells me the ways in which his party improved the country. Darling was one of just three ministers to serve throughout Labour’s time in power – along with Gordon Brown (who made him chancellor) and Jack Straw. Perhaps surprisingly for someone still serving in a Labour shadow cabinet, he is prepared to deviate from unwavering praise, conceding that Labour should have done more.
“You can always do things better—there are people in different parts of the country who can quite rightly say you could have done more—but I will not say that everything we did was wrong.
“In terms of economic reform and greater opportunities for people, we have a lot to be rightly proud of that did make a real difference. But obviously at the same time as that you had Iraq, which dominated politics, certainly in the early part of this last decade, which is deeply controversial.”
Darling’s concessions may not quite amount to a denigration of Labour’s time in power, but they hint at the feeling that the party did not go as far as it perhaps would have liked.
The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee is well versed in assessments of the former government’s triumphs and shortcomings. This autumn will see the publication of her third book on the subject, co-written with her partner David Walker. It will be a full evaluation of New Labour between 1997 and 2010, one that she admits is more “pessimistic” than the pair’s previous analyses.
“I think there is a strong underlying passion for more equality and they are sort of shocked at themselves. They thought they’d tried hard. But even then they hardly managed to stand still in the growth of inequality, and not to reverse it, and I think they are all pretty depressed at themselves about that.”
Toynbee is reluctant to pinpoint exactly how the Brown-Blair years will be remembered; as a Labour cheerleader she believes that as the coalition implement far-reaching cuts as part of their austerity programme, more will look back and say that the relative largesse of the New Labour years was a good thing. Nonetheless she thinks Labour’s achievements came largely in the 1997-2001 term. She talks of the New Deal, the minimum wage, devolution – “the best stuff they did.” But Iraq left a gaping wound that never properly healed.
“All the most memorable things date back pretty much to the first year; after that is was a sort of continuing disappointment. That would be putting it mildly with the Iraq war, but certainly that was the great error that broke the spirit of the party. It broke them internally, even all those obedient people who voted for it. It left them deadened in a way, and unadventurous about new things.
“They will be blemishes forever, we are never going to forget them. I don’t think Blair’s reputation will ever be what it might have been because of it.”
However destructive Iraq was, Labour won the following election – albeit with a reduced majority in parliament. Darling and Toynbee agree that the fundamental shift in the party that came with the rewording of Clause IV in the mid-nineties saw it appeal to the middle ground in a way it had never done before. This, they contest, will not change.
“There is no way they could go back to that” says Toynbee “or if they do it will be a tiny rump of a party with nobody left in it.”
Darling agrees: “Where the Labour party failed in the seventies and eighties is that it never adapted to the world in which everyone else lived.”
Britain seemed to favour change, as opposed to continuity as represented by Brown when it went to the polls in May. With him on the ropes after the economic crash, after thirteen years of ups and downs, and with internal squabbles moving towards open rebellion, the demise seemed inevitable.
Darling, however, thinks differently. The party was not destined to return to opposition simply because of the public’s desire for change. It failed to win the argument.
“I think we could have made a stronger argument, but we didn’t. We lost and we have to accept the consequences of that.
Perhaps those at the top of the party were too concerned with the government’s legacy, and how they would be remembered.